Review: Serenity (2019)

Director: Steven Knight

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Rafael Sayegh

Steven Knight has some strange credits behind him. Sure, his last directorial feature was the all-in-a-car character piece Locke (pretty good), and he’s made a name for himself writing and directing for shows like Peaky Blinders and Taboo (also critically acclaimed)… but he’s also the creator of TV sensation Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? And his name comes attached to some pretty awful material, like Robert Zemeckis’ robotic war thriller Allied and the recently derided The Girl In The Spider’s Web. For every Eastern Promises there’s a Burnt.

Regardless of quality, the success of at least some of the above will have given him the credibility to get Serenity green lit; a ham-fisted new mystery film that seems to think that Bahamian noir has ever been a thing.

Nicolas Cage is pretty busy, so taking the lead role here is Matthew McConaughey. He plays fisherman Baker Dill, eking out a living on Plymouth Island (where’s that exactly?), inexplicably obsessed with catching a big tuna fish that he’s named Justice. A war vet and a drunk, he can’t even remember why he wants to catch the thing.

Stepping into this mess like an adolescent’s perception of a femme fatale comes Anne Hathaway as his ex Karen. She has a proposition for him; kill her rich douchebag husband Frank (Jason Clarke) and receive a cool $10 mil as a reward. Dill finds himself stuck at the bottom of a page in a chose-your-own-adventure novel; kill the bad man or catch the big fish.

There’s more to what’s going on, of course. Knight telegraphs his twists with gigantic warning signs wherever he can, seemingly confident that his audience is too stupid to connect the dots. Key to all of this is the seemingly supernatural connection Dill has to his son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh); a boy who sits on his computer in a darkened room, whom Dill can communicate with by – I’m serious – jumping naked off of a cliff into the ocean.

It all feels like an idea M Night Shyamalan may have stumbled upon somewhere after making The Village but ultimately decided against on the grounds of it being too stupid. Knight chooses to adopt a tone of straight-faced sentimental sincerity, while up to a certain point his actors regurgitate their lines with a striking lack of emotion or interest. This renders dialogue that might’ve just seemed clunky as downright bizarre. “I’m so mad about this”, “Ever since your wife died we haven’t caught jackshit” and, my personal favourite, “We’re both destroyed. Both damaged. But damaged in different places.” This last occurs during one of the strangest sex scenes to have been orchestrated in recent times.

If you hadn’t guessed already Serenity is an outright howler; a grand folly for all involved that most will wish to have struck from their imdb pages. Only once or twice a year are we gifted a movie this terrible that is also, with mean-spirited Schadenfreude, sort of a riot. The so-bad-its-good material is mostly saved up for after the obvious twist is outed to the participants. Following this, McConaughey seems to visibly age about ten years, staggering around the balmy locations, red-faced and perpetually going apeshit. All that remains is for Idris Elba to rock up and, in his best Pacific Rim voice, shout, “We are cancelling the McConaissance!”

Sadly, Idris must have been busy, too.

The thing is, enjoying films purely from a position of snark isn’t actually all that fun. The trolls will have a field day and there’ll be a YouTube supercut of all the flick’s craziest bits by summer (if it isn’t out there already). Like most movies that circle the drain like this, such fan-made montages are more worthwhile than the full experience. Still, with Knight’s career wildly zigzagging between highs and lows, one can at least hope that he ricochets from this back toward something more defensible. As the film becomes little more than a meme, however, the damage may have already been done.

Score: 

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