A Werner Herzog film that’s Executive Produced by David Lynch? Ok, you’ve got my attention. This latest offering from Art House guru Herzog is loosely based on the true story of a San Diego man named Mark Yavorsky, who killed his mother shortly after being cast in the role of Orestes in the Greek Tragedy “The Eumenides”.
Sounds simple enough: a guy who’s already pretty unstable gets the lead playing a character who kills his mom, confuses reality with fantasy and kills mom in real life – right? But nothing is simple when you put that story into the hands of a man who loves to play with form and style.
The film opens with homicide detectives Hank Havendurst (Willem Dafoe) and Vargas (Michael Peña) being called to the site of the murder. The Detectives (who seem deliberately awkward) soon find out that they had just seend the suspect outside the crime scene, sipping from a coffee cup emblazoned with the words “Razzle Dazzle”, and that he’s since retreated back to his pink, flamingo-adorned house across the street with two hostages.
The son & suspect, Brad McCallum, is played with expert restraint by Michael Shannon (Between this and his role in Bug, I may never be able to see the guy as normal): a man who by all reports hasn’t been quite right since a trip to Peru, during which time his entire group of traveling companions drowned – leaving him alone and apparently hearing voices.
As we’re shown in flashbacks, Mom (Grace Zabriskie) had issues with Brad being engaged to pretty, monotone Ingrid (Chloe Sevigny), not the least of which was keeping her 40-year-old son at home to feed their pet flamingos and serving him bowls full of scary-looking jello. And Brad has some serious issues with leaving his mom alone. Throw in creep-meister Udo Keir as the director of the play Brad & Ingrid are rehearsing, and Brad Dourif as racist homophobe Uncle Ted – and you’ve got a solid cast that does its best with the script’s somewhat eccentric dialog and long shots of staring at the camera.
Reportedly, Lynch had little to do with the actual filming and only offered his name as a means to sell the movie (interesting, as it seems like Herzog would be enough of a name to gain interest), but I saw more than a few Lynchian influences here…though it’s never clear whether they’re meant as inspiration, or if it’s just Herzog mocking Lynch’s distinctive quirks. Either way, there were enough nods that as a Lynch fan, I felt right at home.
There were also some things I really liked: the performances were solid, much of the scenery (shot in and around San Diego and in Peru) was beautifully photographic, and I loved some of the more experimental shots: my favorite involving Brad & Ingrid standing still while a group of people behind them moved in slow motion – Brad saying; “Did you see that? The world almost stopped”.
There were also some things I could have done without – like mentioning the name of the film in the dialog near the end (PLEASESTOPTHAT)- so was it good or not? I’m not sure – but it was interesting enough, and since I’m still thinking about certain scenes, I’d definitely recommend it to people who really love film.