I've seen one other Jeff Nichols film, Take Shelter, which also stars Michael Shannon (not exactly an unusual occurrence ... I believe Shannon has appeared in all of Nichols' features so far). I said of that film that it was "like M. Night Shyamalan only good". More to the point, I added, "Everything improved once I gave myself over to Nichols’ vision, rather than trying to categorize the film from my own preconceptions."
Nichols wastes no time getting started with Midnight Special. It feels like we've entered in the middle of the story, and eventually we realize that is exactly what has happened. Nichols assumes his audience will figure things out on their own. It's not that he is purposely obscure, he just doesn't over-explain anything. Midnight Special has the feel of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but where Spielberg piles on the feel-goodness (not a complaint in that case, I love Close Encounters), Nichols shows a family broken to an extent by the special powers of their kid. The aliens in Close Encounters are rarely if ever scary, but the underlying mysterious nature of the plot of Midnight Special means the aliens (or whatever they are) are, at the least, ominous. Nichols has given us an unsettling film, but one that feels satisfying in the end.
Shannon plays a variation on his usual here, and he's as good as ever. I'm always glad to see Kirsten Dunst, and I can't be the only person who thought of Dunst in Fargo, saying "It's just a flying saucer, Ed." Jaeden Martell is suitably awkward as the kid with the powers, and Adam Driver plays against type (the glasses he wears help). Toss in Joel Edgerton, and "That Guy" Bill Camp, and you have a fine ensemble.
Midnight Special is just as good as Take Shelter. I need to see more movies by Nichols.