Sunday, 25 February 2018

Film Review: Mute is the first contender for Worst Film of 2018

A trend I have in my reviews is that when a once great director has made a really, seriously poor film, I'll draw attention to their earlier work write at the start of the review. See: Tomas Alfredson's The Snowman from last year. That time has come once again.

Duncan Jones once directed Source Code. Let's just pause for a moment and let that sink in.

And we're off. I don't like opening reviews with hyperbole but if I see a worse film in 2018 than Mute I'll quite frankly be impressed. Not only is this just a monumental misfire in terms of science fiction cinema, it's perhaps more worryingly a glimpse into the mind of a director who once displayed fantastic promise yet is now showing very few signs of his former self left. Moon was grown up, compelling sci-fi with powerful questions at its core. Source Code was an energetic, zippy adrenaline rush through the mind. Mute - described, rather scarily, as a passion project for Mr Jones - has a sequence in which a man is outed as a paedophile by his best friend, who has a young daughter, only to be immediately forgiven a matter of frames later.

So it's safe to say the whole "thinking man's sci-fi" that Jones displayed back in Moon is long gone. As well as this hilariously poorly handled subplot (belonging to two unbearable characters played uncharacteristically obnoxiously by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux), Mute also displays a worrying depiction of the woman’s role in science fiction. Those who know me well will know I'm rarely the first to concern myself with the representation of women in cinema, but Mute reduces its every adult female character to the role of a prostitute or a victim, it doesn't stop short at objectifying the underage ones either. There’s something offputting about a film with an audience of this size - Mute is a Netflix original, meaning it’ll attract a crowd - that finds itself so actively, aggressively reducing its female characters to such diminishing positions. I am well aware that the contents of a film should never be taken to match the mindset of those behind the camera, but when a film so noticeably mishandles such an element, the lines between fiction and reality surely begin to blur.

Mute concerns itself with a mute man named Leo (Alexander Skarsgard, as dull and emotionless as a beige carpet) trying to find his girlfriend after she disappears. Leo isn't a particularly interesting character to begin with, and Skarsgard succeeds in finding absolutely nothing for him to bring to life, and so investing ourselves in this story is a chore that never pays off. The girlfriend, Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh), is devoid of personality or likeability in her few scenes in the film's opening act too, meaning there really isn't much for us to grasp onto here. Unless you sympathise and root for paedophiles, of course. In which case you're in for a thrill ride here, buddy.

Jones' film takes place in some form of hyper-technological dystopian future, but the world itself lacks identity or insight. Jones just creates a couple of new technologies and slaps a bunch of neon lights over them, there's no thought to the world building here. Mute could connect to the real world or offer a thoughtful insight into the potential direction humanity could face, but it sidelines a thoughtful narrative in favour of gratuitous violence and brash characters. It's as if everyone both on and off screen is fighting for the spotlight, nothing here is operating in cohesion. Imagine taking a can of every paint colour you know and throwing them all onto the wall at once - that's the kind of ugly, unpleasant mess that Mute frequently comes across as.

Other than the neon lighting admittedly looking pretty cool sometimes - that is, when the film isn't trying to look like Blade Runner 2 - it's very tough to find much to like here. Mute seems to fancy itself as tough, challenging science fiction but in reality it lands more as abhorrent and confused. It's a dull film comprised of ugly characters engaging in ungodly actions, and Jones never grounds any of this in anything interesting. Complex themes like child abuse and prostitution can of course be tackled in cinema, but they need to have substance, a depth to their arguments. Mute brushes any thoughtfulness aside, it seems unconcerned with the horrors of what it's saying and what it's doing - a somewhat frightening trait for Jones' self proclaimed passion project. Still, the most frightening thing here is that this guy once directed Source Code. Yeah, it's going to take me a while to get over this one.

In A Sentence

Uninteresting to the point of incomprehension, Mute is both a worrying misfire from a once promising director and a dreadfully ill-conceived slice of science fiction in its own right.

No comments:

Post a Comment