"Mid-Century" feels like a Lifetime movie spin on “The Stepford Wives” by way of “Ghost” with a horror bent and an Architectural Digest sheen.
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“Mid-Century” (available in select theaters beginning Friday, June 17) is one wild and wacky movie. It’s a feminist screed that dabbles in serial killers, the occult, ghost stories and … of course … mid-century architecture – hence the title.
Young marrieds Tom Levin (Shane West) and Alice Dodgeson (Chelsea Gilligan) are at an impasse in their relationship. He’s a partner at a successful architectural firm. She’s a doctor who’s tired of being harassed by her superior Dr. Volker (Bill Chott). He wants children. She wants to focus on the career for which she’s worked so hard.
Wanting to get away from Volker, Alice visits fellow physicians Kerri (director Sonja O’Hara) and Hal Brennan (Jay Scully) for a prospective job. In order for Alice to accept the gig, Tom would have to leave his firm behind and begin anew. To entice him she rents a mid-century home, which was designed and once owned by famed, deceased architect Frederick Banner (Stephen Lang), of whom Tom is a fan.
Turns out Banner was an occultist freak who palled around with whacked-out artist Emil Larson (Bruce Dern, pretty well reduced to a cameo). Banner didn’t subscribe to, “thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” and used the development as a hunting/breeding ground by offing husbands and raping their widows. One such victim Marie Verdin (Sarah Hay) now haunts the house belonging to Banner’s son Eldridge (screenwriter/producer Mike Stern) and begins communing with Tom. Things begin going bump in the night, bodies begin piling up and Officer Raquel Dorado (Annapurna Sriram) suspects Tom is responsible.
There’s much to admire about “Mid-Century.” The movie is good-looking – a lot of the aesthetic heavy lifting is done by the primary location itself (it’s Stern’s real-life home). Speaking of Stern, he and his script should be applauded for making feminist overtures regarding women having professional and reproductive autonomy. These appeals are often over-shadowed by the shlockiness that abounds, but an attempt was made and it’s certainly there in the subtext.
Director O’Hara coaxes some pretty good performances out of her cast. Lang – a chameleon of an actor as evidenced by the likes of “Manhunter,” “The Hard Way,” “Tombstone,” “Public Enemies,” “Avatar” and the “Don’t Breathe” flicks – probably didn’t need much coaxing, but he menacingly makes an absolute meal out of his material. West (with whom Lang worked on WGN’s “Salem”) does solid work with a not altogether likable character, but I often had to stifle laughter at his Superman-esque spit curl. Hay brings emotional heft to the proceedings and sells much of the paranormal silliness in a way lesser performers could not.
“Mid-Century” ultimately feels like a Lifetime movie spin on “The Stepford Wives” by way of “Ghost” with a horror bent and an Architectural Digest sheen. It’s WTF AF and will likely get legs as a cult curio on some streaming service in the months and years to come.