Werner Herzog has been a very busy filmmaker lately. David Lynch has been lying low for the last few years, no doubt taking his time piecing together his latest nightmare captured on celluloid. What would it be like if we combined these two talents? Herzog in a writer/director capacity and Lynch as an executive producer. “My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done” answers that question. Be careful what you wish for.
The plot is loosely based on a true event.
Detective Havenhurst (Willem Dafoe) and Detective Vargas (Michael Pena) respond to a call and arrive at a house in suburban San Diego to see many other officers on the scene. A disturbed man named Brad McCollum (Michael Shannon) has barricaded himself in his home and begins to make outrageous demands. His mother is dead in the house across the street, apparently having been stabbed with a sword. The officers may be dealing with a possible hostage situation.
Ingrid (Chloe Sevigny) Brad’s fiancée, comes to the house to try to help, and fills the officers in on what has led to Brad’s current situation. Some time ago, he had traveled to Peru where all of his friends perished in a kayaking accident. Ever since he returned, Brad just wasn’t the same. It seems that Brad was acting in a Greek tragedy and became obsessed with the concept of killing his mother. More light is shed on the situation when the director of the play, Lee Meyers (Udo Kier) responds at the behest of Brad.
Will the hostages be set free? Will more people die? Will Brad get the help he needs or will he be a casualty of his own madness?
Herzog’s output has varied wildly from receiving universal acclaim to confounding audiences. Lynch is certainly no stranger to being willfully obtuse (“Inland Empire,” enough said). A collaboration between the two had the definite potential to go completely off the rails.
While it’s not quite as abstract and non-linear as it could have been, there are narrative oddities galore. It seems like Herzog maintains some element of control over the story’s structure, but Lynch seems to sprinkle some odd ingredients into the mix. One scene features a little person who appears out of the blue and has no obvious connection to the story. On at least two separate occasion, the characters freeze in the scene for an extend period of time and silently stare at the camera. Maybe there is something artistic about it or perhaps their inclusions are meant to create a topic of debate among the audience, but if you’re just watching the film to be entertained, it’s incredibly distracting.
Since we know certain details about Brad early in the story, there isn’t a whole lot to be discovered later on. The film is reasonably short (excluding credits, under an hour and a half), but the pacing is slack and not a lot of suspense is generated. Visually, as tends to be the case with digital video, some scenes look excellent while others look grainy and a little cheap.
On the bright side, Michael Shannon turns in a suitably off-the-wall performance (combined with “The Runaways” that makes two so far this year. Remember, he also starred in “Bug” a little while back). You can always count on Dafoe and it’s nice to see Brad Dourif getting work besides doing the voice of Chucky.
Special features include: a short film that follows that travels of a plastic bag and an interview with Werner Herzog and co-writer Herbert Golder. The former is an experiment similar to what a film student might create and the latter has value only if you enjoy the movie. There are also a few previews.
“My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done” will only appeal to a very limited number of film enthusiasts. You have to be a fanatic of David Lynch and Werner Herzog to probably even consider seeing it in the first place, but even that doesn’t guarantee enjoyment. The end result plays out like a compromise between the two filmmakers’ styles. The long and short of it is that this isn’t the kind of movie you impulsively rent or buy and watch with a group of friends on a Friday night.
It’s a shame that Herzog and Lynch can only have their films seen by the public in such limited capacities. Then again, they’re so quirky and outside of the mainstream, maybe that’s the whole point.
Rated R 91 minutes 2010
“My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done” will be available to rent/purchase in Allentown, the Lehigh Valley and beyond.