On New Year’s Eve 1999 a construction worker suddenly finds himself starring on a TV Game Show that kills its contestants.
Imagine you are sitting comfortably alone at home watching television on New Year’s Eve when all of a sudden you are thrust into a violent Game Show where you are the live contestant in a game where your very survival is on the line. That is the premise behind Sixty Minutes to Midnight, a small but effective film from director Neil Mackay (Skeleton Lake, 2012).
There is nothing special about Jack Darcy (Robert Nolan). A construction worker by day, Darcy has a small circle of friends and a home to which he retreats every evening as he seeks escape and comfort in front of his television. But on this night, New Year’s Eve night, Darcy finds himself reluctantly thrown into a deadly game broadcast to live audiences. The game’s objectives and rules are not overtly obvious. Assassins show up at his house and engage Jack in gunfire. A Vietnam vet himself, Jack more than holds his own against the initial onslaught. But the threat only intensifies as professional killers are paraded through his home brandishing all sorts of deadly weaponry.
Jack is acceptably confused. Even as his hacked television broadcasts the show to which he is trying to survive and the show’s host offers observations or insight into what is forthcoming, Jack is unwittingly engaged and is unaware of what challenges are next to befall. What has become abundantly clear is that Jack has 60-minutes to survive. And if he is still alive at midnight he will be awarded a $1 million prize windfall.
As the host of the television broadcast replays a past participants demise it is clear that Jack is not expected to survive. But Jack has other ideas. And thanks to a personal arsenal built up in his basement bunker, Jack is more than equipped to throw back everything and more thrown his way. The result is much exchanged gunfire, much bloodshed and unlikely hero struggling to use his home field advantage to his benefit.
Comparisons to Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man are expected. In both instances, reluctant contestants were pitted against enemies that were far better equipped with military hardware to tip the odds in their favor. But where Arnie’s Ben Richards fought over-the-top WWE style performers with flashy personas and weaponry, Jack Darcy fights an enemy every much as human and vulnerable as he. We therefore get a more realistic hero and a clear line-of-sight as to whom the audience should be cheering.
Writer Terry McDonald keeps things claustrophobic by maintaining the setting to the confines of Jack’s property. This allows for some good tension as Jack is both hemmed in but also has the benefit of the resources of the abode. And although the film goes through the normal hoops of increasing the peril as the minutes pass, Jack’s fate or survival is not assured. It is in part that model that makes Sixty Minutes to Midnight authentic.
For what we can safely assert, Sixty Minutes to Midnight is a low budget films. But the director Mackay does marvels with giving the film a sheen of a much larger funded operation. The gunfire – and there is plenty – is at times unremitting. And Jack’s survival skills, which turn him into an everyday cross between McGyver and John McClane, are both crude and plausible.
Sixty Minutes to Midnight might not be perfect. But I guarantee it is more than what you might expect.