Once Mid-Century, starring Stephen Lang, Shane West, and Chelsea Gilligan, begins, you feel like it’s going to fix the issues that Olivia Wilde’s ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ had. Both films are set in a neighborhood that feels too good to be true and feature a megalomaniac at its center with the wish to not just gain power over the society that he has created. It’s another thing that he also peddles his propaganda about misogyny to the residents who reside there. However, like the aforementioned, even Mid-Century is a film that is never able to build upon its premise of using the architectural angle or its genre elements to bring something more than a half-cracked twist.
Anyway, before we get to the present, the film briefly introduces us to its main culprit. Stephan Lang, as Frederick Banner, who is hamming the hell out of this psychopathic character, is apparently an architect and owns a neighborhood of modern but affordable homes. However, apart from allowing residents to soak in the beautiful aesthetic, Frederick Banner is a man who yields power over everything – including basically walking up to one of the houses, killing the man to eventually own the wife as his own.
Fast-forward to the present – Alice (Chelsea Gilligan) and Tom (Shane) are a couple who have been having issues in their relationships due to their lack of communication. Alice is a surgeon who has been constantly on the clock because of the COVID-19 patients that she has been having at her hospital. It doesn’t help that her seniors – all men, have been harassing her. Tom, on the other hand, is a consultant for an architectural firm, and together, the couple decides to rent a house for that weekend so that Tom can look at refurbishing it while also spending time with Alice, making the cracks in their marriage fix on its own.
The conflict arises when, within the confines of the house, Tom starts sensing weird happenings, although nothing is made simpler for the audience to gauge. To top it off, the internal logic of the film feels like it’s welded together for the sake of it. Exhibit a – why would Tom and Alice rent the place when Alice might have to just leave immediately for duty, beating the purpose of the vacation altogether? Exhibit b – if Tom is at the place for research and work, why would he need to rent the place? Isn’t it supposed to be a part of his firm’s deal? This and numerous other things keep Mid-Century from truly making sense.
In spite of the half-clever twist of ghostly awakening that it offers, the film eventually digs its own missteps and delivers a dull and oddly misplaced genre picture. It doesn’t help that none of the plot threads or characters are even remotely fleshed out for the twist to land square and shock or awe you. There’s an undercurrent of excavating deeply drenched misogyny and killing it down to its very bone, but the film is so busy showing off its campy layers that it never truly achieves any kind of momentum.
None of the key players in the game – including Stephen Lang, Shane West, and Chelsea Gilligan offer anything remotely memorable on the acting front, making the effort of the handsome production design feel truly futile.