Midnight Family Review
Speeding along the streets of Mexico City late at night like some sort of critical care version of Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, the Ochoa family race towards an injured local while weaving through lines of traffic. But it isn’t just the clock they are trying to beat in a city where nine million inhabitants have access to less than 45 emergency ambulances. As we will see countless times throughout Luke Lorentzen’s Midnight Family, they are also literally racing to overtake other private emergency ambulances in a desperate bid to be the first 'medics' on the scene.
Lorentzen works as a one-man crew observing the Ochoa’s as they hit the streets every night hoping to earn a living charging individuals for providing medical assistance and private hospitals for dropping off patients. The level of training they possess remains unclear, with only one on-board (Manuel) capable of providing basic treatment. At the back of the ambulance sits cheeky nine-year-old Josue, who wants to spend all his time riding with his father and brother instead of attending school. Behind the wheel is 17-year-old Juan driving the ambulance at high speed with incredible confidence, and next to him is head of the family and owner of the business, Fernando.
But it isn’t just fellow drivers and ambulances the Ochoa’s are up against each night. Crooked cops look to take their cut wherever possible, demanding to see paperwork, setting unrealistic rules and forcing them to pay bribes to remain on the streets. At the same time there is food to be paid for, medical equipment to replace and a family at home to feed, turning an already murky situation into something even less charitable. If patients refuse to pay there is little this small crew can do in response, which pushes them to coerce patients into attending private hospitals where they are guaranteed payment for delivering new arrivals, even when it may not be in the best interests of patient care.
Given the confines of the space he had to work in you can see why Lorentzen chose to go alone for this project. He was also responsible for the editing which fluidly keeps track of the Ochoa’s fight to make ends meet as they risk life and limb careering through packed city streets. The cinematography also benefits from a crispness that captures the illuminating red and blue lights penetrating the surrounding nightlife, adding a sense of urgency and tension to the narrative.
“If no-one died, morticians wouldn’t have jobs. All these things create jobs,” says Juan in one of the few moments of rest the family are able to enjoy while at work. Except it’s hard to imagine how long and far the Ochoa’s – and others doing the same – can keep their heads above water surviving off scraps. They have precious little time to reflect on their plight let alone to contemplate some of the dubious moral decisions they make in the process. It’s dog-eat-dog and no-one comes out the other side any better for it.
Midnight Family opens in select UK cinemas on February 21.