Tribeca ’19 Review: MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENCE Is A Candid And Immersive Documentary

An intimate look back at the life and times of this enigmatic and talented man, gone too soon.

Even if you aren’t a die-hard fan of the hugely popular Australian rock band INXS, chances are you’ve caught yourself singing or dancing along to at least one of their many catchy hits. This feature-length documentary written and directed by Richard Lowenstein, who first met Michael Hutchence in 1984, takes an intimate look into the life of the enigmatic lead singer. Journeying through the height of the band’s success in the 1980s and ‘90s to a traumatic brain injury that changed the course of his life, the film approaches the telling of Michael’s story up to its tragic end with an abundance of love and zero judgment.

“Michael was the center,” says his sister, Tina Hutchence, in one of the many personal interviews Lowenstein conducted off camera. He uses this audio as a soundtrack over captivating and rarely seen archival footage that makes up the entirety of the film. Never breaking away from these images from the past creates an emotional time machine, immersing viewers in the singer’s shy upbringing, his rise to fame as a charismatic performer and sex symbol, his passionate love affairs with women such as Kylie Minogue, Helena Christensen, and Paula Yates, and his untimely death at the age of thirty-seven. Listening to the candid memories from those closest to him about how Michael coped with the pressures of the spotlight and how he always longed to be at home reveals a side of the singer very few people got to see.  

Before a traumatic accident in Paris that caused significant brain damage, the two sides of Michael Hutchence were limited to the sensual rock star persona he eased into on stage and the sweetly shy and generous spirit he was known for among friends and lovers. After the accident, his behavior became more aggressive and erratic, intensifying his underlying attraction to danger and revealing a much darker side. With the music of the ‘90s sweeping in and pushing bands like INXS aside, his dreams of artistic greatness began to fade. Lowenstein’s stylistic choice to marry the audio tracks of family, friends, and lovers candidly sharing memories of Michael brings him back to life in a sense, creating an intense rollercoaster of emotions. Concert footage of Michael so full of life on stage, where he was such a natural and engaging performer, make the final days depicting his depression and crippling insecurities difficult to watch.

It’s been said that a documentary is only as good as its subject, and Richard Lowenstein could not have chosen a more intriguing topic. Michael Hutchence was a man who feared “being lonely” even as he enthralled millions with his impassioned voice and lasting music. Mystify: Michael Hutchence isn’t only a film for devoted fans of INXS, it’s for anyone who has admired an artist from afar, blindly assuming they must have it all. This doc takes you on an honest and often heartbreaking journey from the early days where Michael was described by everyone who knew him as the purest ray of light, perfectly capable of mesmerizing the world, to his distressing descent into an all-encompassing darkness that no one could save him from in the end.