SERENITY Review: What The Hell Did I Just Watch?

Sure looks like 2019 has a strong case of ill-advised cinema right out the gate.

Oh. My. God.

I'm sorry, but there is absolutely no other way I can start this review. How did this happen? How did multiple people look at the screenplay of Serenity and think “Yes, this is a good idea!”? This is the sort of bizarre nonsense that really shouldn’t be spoiled for those who enjoy strangely bad movies in the vein of The Book of Henry or Gotti, but it otherwise defies explanation so savagely that a poor writer such as myself must either opt to (1) disclose too much and remove the discovery inherent in the film’s biggest, most gonzo twist, or (2) risk saying too little and not properly convey just how far off the rails this thing goes. Dear BMD readers, I’m going with Option Number 2 here because I know you’re the kinds of weirdos who are going to enjoy this sort of nonsense, so just keep the idea that this movie eventually turns batshit logged right in the back of your brain.

Very serious actor Matthew McConaughey plays a very serious character named Baker Dill, a fisherman with a strange but very serious fascination with catching a specific giant tuna off the shores of his island home of Plymouth, even at the cost of pissing off the tourists who pay him to take them on fishing excursions. However, his world is derailed from this Moby Dick riff when he is visited by Karen (Anne Hathaway), the mother of his child, with an offer to kill her new, abusive husband (Jason Clarke) for the sum of ten million dollars. Now Baker Dill, veritable master of the brine, must decide whether to give in to the temptation of his ex-lover’s promises of rewards, but the sound of his son’s voice echoes in his head, leaving him unsure of the right thing to do.

And when I talk about Dill’s kid, I mean we also get flashes of him (played by Rafael Sayegh) sitting alone in his room, listening as his stepfather beats his mom in the next room. This weirdness is complimented by some really strange camera choices back on the island, with the camera making stuttering swoops around the characters to see them from various vantage points for no real good reason. Furthermore, the plot is complicated even further by the presence of a strangely stiff man in a suit who always arrives too late to a scene to talk with Dill, and the small town nature of the secluded island means that all the residents seem to know that Dill is up to something. This is all presented very melodramatically and is honestly a bit surreal, especially as the film’s weirder twists start coming into play and you start to get a sense of what’s really going on.

As for the twist itself, yes, it makes sense. Kinda. But it’s also incredibly dumb. It’s the kind of thing where writer-director Steven Knight clearly thought he’d had a clever high-concept idea but didn’t put in the effort to research the subject matter he’s exploring or to properly examine the thematic consequences of his narrative. It’s not just a twist that sounds silly on paper, but it’s such a far stretch from the film that is initially being sold that the realization that now you’re watching whatever the third act is supposed to be is hilariously jarring, mostly because of how overwrought and self-serious the whole affair is.

Serenity is such a strange film that it’s hard not to recommend it to the diehard devotees of the Church of Ill-Advised Cinema, but boy is it a hard film to stomach without a sense of irony. At the very least, Hathaway seems to have some level of begrudging contempt for the material – she has to call Jason Clake “Daddy” so much that it feels extremely uncomfortable – but then again, McConaughey is swinging for the fences, going full bore on the cackling, extreme mysteriousness, and tears. If you want to see any of these actors at their best, you aren’t going to find it here. But if you want to see them act out an increasingly bizarre slice of domestic drama for the sake of one of the dumbest narrative turns of recent memory, then you’re my kind of people. Just, uh, maybe don’t do it sober if you can help it.