Fantastic Fest Review: TOO LATE

John Hawkes kills it in this amazing yet possibly awful detective film.

It would be easy to list all the things about Too Late that should automatically make it a horrible movie. It’s filled with all kinds of cutesy pop culture references that don’t belong. It feels totally in love with itself. John Hawkes seems to be playing a different character every time we see him. The dialog sprints so hard toward cleverness that it frequently trips over and embarrasses itself. The performances are artificial to an almost disastrous degree. I could keep going and going.

All these things are true, and anyone who says they hate the film isn’t without a point. Nevertheless, there is a weird magic at play here that turns all these negatives into strange, perverse virtues and creates a film that thrills more for what it thinks it accomplishes than what it actually does. No joke, Too Late is probably my favorite film of this year's fest so far.

This is a gimmick movie. We’re offered one story told in five chronologically out of order scenes, each filmed in one shot (actually, there are a couple cuts in the last bit) with lots and lots of showy camera moves. Everything is affected and artificial in hopes of achieving some kind of noir coolness. Too Late does not take place in the real world but rather an unnatural construct built for the sole purpose of making John Hawkes look like a super badass.

Somehow, it manages to work. Not right away, though. It takes some time to get used to Too Late’s wavelength. At first, you really don’t know if you’re watching something tailored to sound a certain way or just sincerely inept. To be honest, the film ends with that question still uncertain. With time, however, it ends up no mattering much. You learn to just go with it either way.

The story itself is pretty simple on the surface. A young woman gets murdered. John Hawkes plays a private eye who has to deal with it. But that actually all gets taken care of fairly early in the film. The rest spends its time filling blanks regarding the nature of Hawks and this lady’s relationship. The film makes a couple interesting turns, but narrative isn’t really the main draw here.

In addition to the technical aspects that set this movie apart, there are also a myriad of odd details within the film that help elevate its lunacy. A lady inexplicably spends about twenty minutes walking around without pants or underwear. Jeff Fahey shows up briefly as a character who has crutches with him even though he never actually walks anywhere in his scene. At one point John Hawkes sits down with a guitar and sings an entire song for no real reason. Actors blow lines in the middle of these long-ass takes.

And somehow, it all ends up working. I found myself perplexed at first but before long that all fell away to rampant entertainment, though I’m unsure how genuine my affections for the film are. This is an odd duck, a film that desperately wants to emulate De Palma and Tarantino, but unlike so many others with those aspirations, appears to accidentally find its own weird voice in the process. I love it, and wish I could watch it again right now.