Minutes into Werner Herzog's new film, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, you can already see echoes of his previous film released this year, the absolutely excellent, Bad Lieutenant. From the suburban noire vibes to the broody eclectic score, you would nearly be forgiven thinking it was a direct follow-up.
Just to spice things up a bit, taking on producing duties was none other than David Lynch. Though having written the script almost 15 years ago, I'm surprised it has taken until now for Werzog to make the film, which is loosely based on real life events.
The story centers around the deeply disturbed, Brad McCallum (Michael Shannon), who has recently just killed his own mother (Grace Zabriskie). Through a series of disorientating flashbacks, the audience is given glimpses into Brad's strange motivations for committing the act. At times these particular scenes only seemed to raise more, mind-boggling, questions than actual coherent answers.
Michael Shannon's performance however, was nothing short of remarkable. Brash, outspoken, childish, psychotic, disturbing and at times even quite comedic. Though Lynch didn't seem to have any real creative input, the film was scattered with nods towards his own work. Especially in the skin-crawling portrayal of Brad's controlling and psychologically suppressed mother.
While Willem Defoe was merely a bystander to the chaos unfolding, at the scene of the crime, it was through the stories of Chloe Sevigny and Udo Kier's characters where we begin to gain some sort of perspective into Brad's psyche.
Herzog's intentions were clear in his mirroring narrative to the ancient Greek tragedy of the Oresteia trilogy, as Brad became increasingly more obsessed with the actions of the main character. Going deeper, there was a sense Herzog wanted to delve into the darkness which lurks inside all men, their lingering doubts with religion and mythical higher powers, as well as the contempt for their fellow neighbours. It was a shame though this message got, somewhat, lost in the execution of the feature.
While the scenes with Brad producing the stage production of the Greek play made a degree of sense towards his resulting intentions. As did the utterly bizarre treks to his Uncle's ostrich farm where he even acquired the murder weapon in question - despite the Lynch-esque scene in a snowy neighbouring forest where a midget magically popped up dressed in a tuxedo. The production fell however, in the scenes set in Peru where he encountered a life changing event which offered very little explanation into his motivations other than the character was simply a very odd individual with no real sense of purpose or direction - however maybe that is the point.
Werner Herzog's latest is a strange, disturbing, and even at times, darkly comedic exploration into the mind of a killer. Unfortunately, the film often came off as slightly disorientating and muddled in its overall delivery, despite the fascinating leading performance from Michael Shannon. Though, perhaps it should be renamed My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Been On*?
See This If You Like...
American Psycho, Bad Lieutenant, The Killer Inside Me, Mullholland Drive.
*I concede that was poor, but I've been waiting all of the review to get that out of my system
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is in selected cinemas nationwide now. Northern Irish visitors will be able to see it in the Queen's Film Theatre from Friday, October 1st 2010.