When early reactions to Serenity started popping up, just before its worldwide release date last week, a certain hysteria around it rose up in social media. They promised ludicrous twists, moments bordering on insanity, and an overall experience that apparently had to be seen to be truly believed. I somehow managed to avoid spoilers before I headed out to the theater, days after the headlines started making waves, with a curious giddiness to see what it was all about. I guess I can say it sparked a particular side of me as a film lover, one eager to take a deep dive into a cinematic trainwreck, completely involve myself in its ludicrousness and reflect on how the hell it was all possible afterward. In that way, I cannot say I was disappointed.
From Steven Knight, the director of Locke – by all means a very effective and neatly done film, even if much of it wasn´t that memorable – comes to this mid-tier scale studio oddity, that if it wasn´t for all the unexpected buzz, would have surely been forgotten and went on to live in occasional 1 a.m cable channel showings. Instead, it seems poised to become a cult classic, sooner rather than later. In it, Matthew McConaughey plays Baker Dill, a stern, rum-drinking, but level-headed fisherman working in the remote island of Plymouth, where everyone seems to know about each other a little too well. His uneventful everyday life gets broken up when Karen, a figure from his past (played by Anne Hathaway, forcing a mix between a femme-fatale type and a Hitchcock Blonde) confronts him with a proposal involving a plot to murder her abusive husband (Jason Clarke, in an extremely cartoonish mode).
Serenity is pretty nuts from the get-go. From a dialogue perspective alone, the film presents you with hilariously absurd and out-of-place lines, particularly ones concerning things such as tuna and cats, managing to make their way into almost every scene from the very beginning – all of them delivered with puzzling seriousness by its star-studded cast (which also includes Djimon Hounsou and Diane Lane). For the first few moments, the film is dead set on creating a vaguely mysterious, “something is off about this” vibe, where every scene unsubtly feeds you small hints that a big twist might be around the corner. But as the straight-faced mystery-thriller, it is very much trying to be, it falls flat on its face pretty quickly. Thankfully, it is unintentionally hysterical while doing so, and it only gets increasingly riotous once the plot kicks in. As more plot points get introduced, the more Serenity plays like an almost hallucinatory experience. And when the big twist does happen, it is damn near euphoric in its ridiculousness. By the end, you´re certainly left with a ton unpack, plot-wise, since there isn´t much that Serenity doesn´t try to do, right up to its conclusion. The thing is that it´s so clumsily handled and filled with so many ludicrous, inconceivable moments, that it plays like a first draft written by a 15-year-old who just watched Inception for the first time.
When it comes to the filmmaking, most of it, disappointingly, is rather basic and competent, in the most boring of ways. I´d say it´s quite uniform stylistically throughout, save from a peculiar, rapid and almost glitchy 180-degree shot of certain individual characters that often makes its presence felt – every time that it does being amusingly jarring. It really helps in making Serenity the oddball experience that it is, and it´s the sort of bewildering directing choice that the film needs more of, to match the insanity of its script. That particular brand of early-2000s frantic and extravagant camera-work would have served the film better, being right up this type of material´s alley.
So what to make of Serenity in this day and age? This type of middle-of-the-road, studio thriller with an original script seems to be dying, at least in cinemas, with Netflix or Amazon being more of the marketplace for a film like this. Serenity can be then read as a sort of gamble from the studio, in that sense. And it has to be recognized: it goes for some outside-the-box ideas, compared to most of the safe blockbusters of today. However, this just feels tragically misguided. If they wanted to go in a bolder direction, they should´ve, at the very least, taken a little more time with the script, to avoid being the disastrous mess that it is. But, on the other hand, it only feels timely to have a film coming out where most of it seems written by an algorithm – that would at least explain some of the things that come out of the characters´ mouths. And hey, who knows, maybe in a few months, some news will hit the internet saying that Serenity was the first attempt by a major studio to have a film entirely written by an actual robot – wouldn´t surprise me. As it stands, it is 2019´s first “so-bad-its-good” film.