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MIDNIGHT SPECIAL: 4 STARS. “’Buy the ticket, take the ride’ kind of movie.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 1.06.18 PM“Y’all have no idea what you’re dealing with, do you?” asks cult leader Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard) of his FBI interrogators in “Midnight Special.” They don’t, and for much of the running time of the film, you won’t either. Director Jeff Nichols has made a wilfully obtuse, but fascinating, sci fi drama that will keep you guessing, even after the credits have rolled.

The movie begins as an apparent missing child story. We’ve seen the scene before. A dowdy motel room, armed kidnappers, a child hidden under a sheet. What’s unexpected is how agreeable the eight-year-old Alton Meyers (Jaeden Lieberher) is. He hugs Roy (Michael Shannon) and sits quietly in the backseat as Lucas (Joel Edgerton) drives.

Seems Roy is the boy’s biological father and the men have kidnapped the boy from The Ranch, a cult compound run by Brother Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). The goal is to allow the boy to fulfill his destiny, but what exactly is that?

Is he a prophet? A saviour? Or a weapon, as the FBI and NSA officer Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) believe?

The boy has powers. Visible spectrums of light come from his eyes. In other words, the kid has gifts and rays shoot from his eyeballs. While on The Ranch would also speak in tongues. To the cult his is ravings have become scripture, to the FBI they appear to contain highly guarded secrets of national security. The date Friday March 6 looms heavy in the text, and with the date fast approaching the FBI want to know what might happen on the day.

“What do you think will happen on March 6?” they ask one cult member.

“If Alton is with us we will be saved,” she replies.

As the FBI amp up their chase for the boy, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), Roy’s ex and Alton’s mother, joins in to help her son complete his journey. “The date and place is everything,” says Roy. “It’s all we have.”

“Midnight Special” is a special kind of sci fi film. The story is more about fear of the unknown and belief than flying saucers or little green men. Mulder and Scully would love it. Director Nichols has belief, belief that his audience will stay with a movie that doesn’t make it easy for them, that doesn’t stick to Robert McKee’s golden rules of script writing. Instead it teases out the information but only to a point. We learn enough to stay involved and are treated to several spectacular and exciting scenes along the way, but when it comes time to put a period on the story, Nichols instead uses a an ellipsis in a metaphysical ending that will mean different things to different people.

This is a, “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” movie. Is it satisfying? Yes, if you don’t expect answers to all the questions the film raises. It’s more “2001: A Space Odyssey” than “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” although this movie does share Klaatu’s cool eye lasers. Both are good, interesting pictures, but one is unconventional and brave enough to ask more than it answers.

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