Stephen Lang is an American actor with a staggering list of film and stage credits, but they haven’t made him a household name yet.
Broadway historians would note that Lang was a standout playing the son to Dustin Hoffman’s Willy Loman, in the legendary 1984 production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Lang returns in the upcoming “Avatar” sequel this fall and is the lead of “Old Man,” the forthcoming thriller from Lucky McGee.
While Lang has been a utility player for decades, his work always warrants attention, whether the material is worthy of him or not.
Case in point: Sonja O’Hara’s “Mid-Century,” in which Lang plays Frederick Banner, a brilliant, murderous architect with a reputation to match Frank Lloyd Wright.
We witness the disturbing incident that burns Banner’s name into infamy. Decades later, Tom (Shane West) and his wife (Chelsea Gilligan) rent Banner’s immaculately designed and very haunted house. Tom starts learning about the house’s rotten backstory.
Then he starts seeing ghostly visions of Banner’s late wife (Sarah Hay).
“Mid-Century” is not all there, with plotting that goes bonkers in the third act. It helps that, at times, it’s very creepy, mostly due to how good Lang is here. Having Mike Stern, the screenwriter, also play one of the heavies demonstrates how hands on this is; ditto, O’Hara, the director, who also has a supporting turn.
The setting is also reportedly the screenwriter’s actual home. Maybe the filmmaking was just too cozy? The biggest issue is a screenplay that doesn’t hold together in the late going.
West hasn’t headlined a big movie since playing Tom Sawyer in “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (2003) and has mostly worked steadily in television. As the film’s lead, he’s rusty and too overly self-conscious.
Far better is genre veteran Vanessa Williams and intriguing newcomer Emmy Perry. Nevertheless, even though it’s a supporting turn, this is Lang’s show from top to bottom.
This plays like a small but intriguing companion to Alex Garland’s recent “Men,” as all the male figures are controlling, condescending, sexist and very-1950s. Contrasting “Mad Men”-era chauvinism to contemporary attitudes gives this some subtextual heft. The ideals of the ‘50s and the All-American bravado of those suit and tie businessmen are the core of both Lang’s character and the patriarchal figure played, albeit briefly, by Bruce Dern.
However, both “Parents” (1988) and “The Stepfather” (1987) covered this material with more clarity and depth.
At least it’s not gory and emphasizes atmosphere and spooky imagery over cheap thrills. Lang may have shot all of his scenes in a few days, but they’re spread out over the film enough to maximize his screen time.
The actor is positively chilling and appears to be having a good time scaring us.
“Mid-Century” is not an essential horror film, but its nicely shot and has one of those Lang performances you shouldn’t miss. That will be enough for some, though pairing a screening of “Don’t Breathe” with “The Stepfather” would be preferable to seeing this.
Still, Lang continues his trend of being the best thing in most of his movies. Frederick Banner is a frightening figure and its worth giving this a look just to see how fully Lang has brought him to life.