It’s common knowledge throughout the entertainment industry that January is where movies go to die – and the latest Matthew McConaughey project is no exception.
Originally slated for an October 2018 release, “Serenity” was expected to go up against Hollywood behemoths like “A Star Is Born,” “First Man” and “Halloween.” Alright, alright, alright, looks like McConaughey’s cooked up something good for us if it can go toe to toe with those titles in one of film’s biggest months.
Its initial trailer showed a sleek, noir thriller with a stellar cast, led by McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jason Clarke. Two Oscar-winning leads and one of the most in-demand actors right now sounded like a winning formula.
Then, the warning signs began to emerge, and finally death came calling for McConaughey and co., as the film was pushed to a January release date, all but sealing its fate. After sitting through that mess of a movie, it’s clear that January is where “Serenity” belonged all along.
“Serenity” follows Baker Dill (McConaughey), a Iraq veteran living day to day as a boat captain on the fictional Plymouth Island. To make money, Dill takes tourists out on fishing trips during the day, then proceeds to spend that money on more fishing supplies and, of course, booze at the island’s only bar. It seems like a decent life that Dill enjoys, until one night, a mysterious woman arrives with a proposition for him. Karen (Hathaway) is Dill’s ex-wife, now married to Frank (Clarke), a wealthy but abusive monster. Karen informs Dill about his young son, Patrick (Rafael Sayegh), who’s become a recluse, immersing himself in his computer games to drown out the sounds of Frank beating his mother. In two days, Frank will join Karen on Plymouth Island, and when he does, she wants Dill to take him deep into the ocean and feed him to the sharks. In exchange, Dill will get $10 million and the chance to see his son again.
So, that’s the movie. A man faces a moral dilemma and struggles to make a decision. An edgy, intense mystery escalates as the plan threatens to go wrong. That’s what the trailer showed, right? Wrong.
Boy do I have news for you. Fasten your seatbelts because this is about to get wild.
Sure, Dill wrestles with the decision of whether or not to murder Frank, but that’s not the main story here. Instead, as he contemplates his next move, it seems like everyone and everything on Plymouth Island is working against him, trying to keep him from killing.
When the mysterious Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong), an out-of-place business man who’s been tailing Dill for days, finally catches up with him, things start to make sense. Or should I say, begin to make less and less sense? It could really go either way here.
Miller explains he’s selling fishing gear, and offers Dill a state-of-the-art fish finder, guaranteed to help him catch the massive tune he’s been dreaming of for years. Dill recognizes the unique timing of Miller’s visit, almost as if it’s some sort of distraction, meant to keep him from doing something else, like committing murder. Miller lets slip that he is “the rules,” and that he knows about Dill’s big day tomorrow, pleading with him to reconsider.
Instead, Dill and Karen follow through with the plan, take Frank deep out into the ocean and dump him overboard, despite the many obstacles trying to prevent them.
Throughout the film, there have been brief flashes of computer screens and coding, meant to represent Dill’s son, but at this point, after the murder, the camera zooms out and the scene becomes pixelated.
IT’S BEEN A VIDEO GAME ALL ALONG.
But here’s the thing: the game was an escape for Patrick to escape the world of his abusive step-father. It was programmed for fishing, but Dill turned into a murder – sending a message to Patrick that he must follow suit. In the film’s closing moments, it’s revealed that Patrick stabbed and killed Frank in order to protect his mother, and that nothing on the island ever existed. Dill really died years ago serving in Iraq.
Boom. Talk about a WTF twist ending. I know it’s early, but it’s gonna be hard to top that one the rest of 2019.
I have to give director Steven Knight credit for even attempting such an ambitious twist, even though nothing about it remotely worked. Instead, it ruined a movie with a serious amount of potential.
Beyond the outrageous storyline, the performances were pretty lackluster all around, nothing too compelling. The cinematography was beautiful, but that was thanks in large part to the stunning setting itself, as it oftentimes looked more like a tropical GoPro video than a Hollywood movie.
Overall, I’m still trying to wrap my head around what I just witnessed, but all I know is I’m never getting excited for a January release again.
Star Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.