Fateful Findings (2013)
Ever since the ascent of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room atop the dung heap mountain of midnight movie fare, the world has been avidly searching for the next so-bad-it’s-amazing film. There have been several contenders over the years, most of which were amusing, such as Troll 2 or the original Birdemic, but some of which made you consider the value of life itself, such as 2009’s After Last Season. Oh, that one still makes me wince. Don’t even see that one. But as a lifelong lover of all things cinematically terrible, thanks in part to growing up on a healthy appetite of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I am compelled to seek out the worst of the worst. The Room is one of my favorite movies of all time; my love for it knows no heavenly bounds. I have to sniff out anything that comes remotely close to replicating that wonderful experience.
Enter Las Vegas realtor and architect Neil Breen. According to a Deadline Hollywood report from October 2013, Breen wrote/directed/produced/starred/edited/and just about everything else a little bundle of love called Fateful Findings. He sent it out blindly to distributors looking for any takers. It just so happens one bit, and now Fateful Findings is gearing up for a nationwide release specifically targeted at the midnight movie crowd that made The Room the sizeable cultural hit it is. Like Wiseau’s accidental masterpiece of cinematic miscalculation, Breen’s film is awash with bizarre directing choices, curious line readings, painful acting, subplots that come and go as they please, a lack of resolution, characters that behave more like aliens than human beings, odd camera framing and compositions, and, naturally, an ending that must be seen to be believed. For fans of woefully bad cinema, there’s a lot to dig in and I’ve got my knife and fork. First, I want to describe four of my favorite things about Fateful Findings and Breen.
The film opens with an eight-year-old boy and girl waking through the woods, coming across a magic mushroom (not that kind). The mushroom disappears, revealing a jewelry box, and inside is a black rock. “It must mean something,” young Dylan lets the audience know. Young Leah then says, twice, “It’s a magical day!” Oh, but if that wasn’t made abundantly clear, she also writes it in a notebook and shows it to the audience. But this opening scene isn’t done with its magic. We flash forward many years to an adult Dylan (Breen), who looks at least ten years older than the adult version of Leah (Jennifer Autry). Prepare for the sudden time jump shock. Anyway, Dylan and Leah never saw each other again after that magical summer that is… until she’s invited to a family barbeque. Why is this stranger, and her then fiancé, invited to a limited family engagement? Anyway, the way that these two people reconnect is that adult Leah bumps into adult Dylan and drops, what for it, the SAME notebook. It falls magically open to the SAME page, revealing the SAME message: “It’s a magical day!” Apparently she still carries that notebook around everywhere she goes and has never written in it since that fateful day. Who doesn’t bring a 30-year-old notebook with them to a barbeque?
2) “It was the Rolls Royce that hit ‘em. I saw it. I’m a witness.”
Also in the first ten minutes, we watch adult Dylan get creamed by a Rolls Royce. The speeded-up sequence itself is just hilarious to watch, especially since the car appears to be going rather slowly in the previous shot. Anyway, Dylan recovers in a hospital thanks to the black rock reviving him (make note when the EMTs arrive and their lagging sense of urgency). The collection of rubberneckers gathers at the accident scene, including one gentleman who, God bless him, foolishly attempts a British accent out of the blue, reciting the above line. I’m sure it would have been in question since the one car resting right next to the injured man is covered in his blood (how much did that cost to rent and splatter a car like that?). It’s at the hospital where Dylan unknowingly meets the adult Leah for the first time. She’s a doctor and pronounces Dylan “semi-comatose.” How is that a thing; can you be semi-pregnant? After his miraculous revival, Dylan leaves the hospital and re-enters his home, taking a shower. His wife, Emily (Klara Landrat, a former model), steps into the shower with him and happily embraces her man. Except beforehand we see a shot of his feet in the shower and blood is profusely streaming down his leg. Remember, all this is from a head wound, so how much does his head have to be bleeding to get down his leg? The shower is filled with blood, Dylan’s bandages are blotted red, and she steps inside. Gross. What kicks this entire sequence even higher in hilarity is that Dylan’s facial bandages actually cover his ENTIRE mouth and nose with no indentations for him to breathe out. When he detaches the oxygen mask, you’ll see there’s nowhere for him to actually breathe. Damn you, Obamacare!
Once home, we learn that Dylan has a Master’s degree in computer science but became a successful novelist, a fact he seems almost disdainful about. This dichotomy is illustrated by the fact that Dylan has four laptops out at all times, none of which are ever really turned on. Why four? Why not? He pounds away, literally, trying to complete his next book, but when his temper arises, he almost always takes it out on the poor laptops. This is a very abusive film when it comes to laptops. My favorite moment is when Dylan is holding a cup of coffee and it looks like he’s going to spill it on that laptop. It’s a ten-second sequence that leaves you on the edge of your seat, finally ending in an even greater comic punchline. At another point, Dylan throws two books into two laptops before holding back his incalculable rage onto a third laptop. The only way people communicate is by throwing things in this film. You could turn Dylan’s tortured mistreatment of laptops into a drinking game.
4) “I can’t believe you killed yourself. I cannot believe you killed yourself. I can’t help you out of this one.”
I won’t go into detail about the context of this quote, to spare some spoilers, but it illustrates the habit of actors repeating lines of dialogue ad nasuem. The dialogue itself is rather plain, so it’s weird that Breen and company feel the need to keep repeating themselves, as if we’re missing some deeper hidden meaning. We’re not.
Breen has described his film in interviews as a genre-bending psychological thriller, and while some of those elements may be present in the faintest, most diluted distillation, the man’s movie is really the long story of two marriages coming apart. Dylan’s marriage with Emily hits the skids when she gets addicted to his pain medication, but neither person seems to treat this as the serious development it is; what makes this worse is that Dylan enables her addiction. He keeps getting her the meds when he clearly no longer needs them. It seems once his childhood sweetheart re-enters his life, Dylan just forgets he has a wife. The other marriage consists of Dylan’s bickering neighbors, Amy (Victoria Valene) and Jim (David Silva), and they really have no impact on the greater plot whatsoever, and yet Breen’s film wastes so much time on their story. They’re unhappy. He wants sex. She doesn’t. Eventually in the heat of the moment Amy does something impulsive and very criminal, and the movie treats it like any nominal plot moment. A vital witness to this crime doesn’t bother speaking up until fifteen minutes later in the film, as if they just had some nagging chores to do before alerting others about a serious crime. Perhaps Jim and Amy are, in some twisted perspective, Breen’s idea of comic relief (Jim’s exaggerated “drunk” movement, throwing drinks on one another, etc.), but for a movie that is nonstop comic blunders, what difference does it make?
And then there’s the supernatural story that permeates the edges of the film, popping in from time to time to remind you during the marital discord that, oh yeah, there’s a mysterious ghost or something or other. The supernatural stuff begins muddled and unexplained and never really clarifies. It’s thanks to the black rock, which Dylan refers to as a cube, that he’s able to survive being hit by the car. If that’s the case, then I don’t think I’d ever let that sucker out of my pocket. I’d glue it to my hand. Inexplicably, the rock also gives Dylan the ability to transport himself through walls, though he only does this once and never explains how he knew. The way we know something “magical” is happening is when a little puff of grey vapor appears onscreen. Is it a spirit, a malevolent force? Does it have anything to do with this stupid book that keeps haunting Dylan? I feel like Breen is patterning himself after the work of David Lynch, except that Lynch’s films, which can consist of weirdness for weird’s sake, have cohesion, a vision. Fateful Findings has the occasional supernatural entity, but it’s rarely examined, and then we’re off to the next subplot as if spinning a board game wheel. Then the supernatural angle, which is only barely toyed with, and with such peculiar indifference, is abandoned and the movie wholly chases after another storyline.
The movie’s final focus is on Dylan’s super secret hacking uncovering all sorts of vague secrets and corruption from governments and corporations (“As president of… The Bank…”). Throughout the film, Dylan keeps mentioning this but it never seems terribly significant, at least judging by the characters’ actions. It isn’t until the very end where Breen spends more than a passing interest in this subplot, because we have more important storylines to feature, like Ally (Danielle Andrade), his neighbor’s teen daughter, inexplicably trying to seduce him. It comes out of nowhere and is just as quickly pushed aside (I also wonder how old Ally is supposed to be). Allow me to thread an analytical narrative to make sense of these dispirit storylines. Assessing the film, it sure comes across like Breen’s attempt to bolster his sense of self. In every scenario, people treat him as a treasured human being, he’s at the center of a diabolical conspiracy, he’s gifted with magic powers that separate him from normal men, all women want to seduce him, and then in the end he’s the one who makes the world a better place by exposing corruption. It sounds like a hero complex to me. Even acts that deserve harsh scrutiny, like his enabling of his wife’s addiction or his blasé attitude about carrying on an affair, are ignored. In this universe, Dylan is always right, always desired, always respected, and always special.
The production has a hard time hiding its obvious shortcomings, sometimes hilariously so. It becomes clear very early that most of the film was likely shot in Breen’s home, which is fine except it also unsuccessfully doubles as other locations (the blinds are the big giveaway). The worst is the hospital room, which mostly consists of a bed and three oxygen canisters. What hospital room is going to have carpet? So much of the movie takes place in Dylan’s home office, with that plethora of laptops, that you’ll start to memorize the home layout. In the opening, with Dylan and Leah as kids, we’re shown modern-day vehicles and then flash forward at least 35 years. Could Breen not have shot the scene with some older vehicles? Then there are Dylan’s two therapist’s offices. The first one is the guy who keeps prescribing pain meds. Perhaps to communicate his overall incompetence as a doctor, Breen stages all of the therapy scenes in a conference room with both men sitting as far apart, at either end of the long conference table. What better way to foster patient intimacy? He also magically switches jackets in the middle of one session. The second therapist operates in what looks like a closet, and the only thing we see are two folding chairs. She may not really exist, or was in on the unexplained supernatural conspiracy, so perhaps the old lady therapist didn’t feel like putting that much effort into decoration.
The technical abilities of the Fateful Findings crew are, to be expected, less than stellar. The editing is another clumsy detraction, namely that Breen and his TWO other editors let their scenes meander several seconds longer than where they should have cut, giving the film a loping feeling. It’s like each person is counting mentally when to respond to the dialogue, and when one person finishes the film holds, counts as well, and then cuts. There are slow pans that add nothing to the film but space in between lines of dialogue. I don’t need rapid-fire cuts for what is essentially a domestic drama, but why the hesitant editing? Is it just a sneaky way of inflating the film’s running time? Even Breen’s staging of the camera can often be confounding. For whatever reason, the film often features camera shots of people’s feet or people very carefully cut off at the head, meaning their heads are not visible. It happens enough and for such nonessential scenes that I started to wonder if Breen found himself an Ed Wood-esque solution for not having his same actors for the scenes he needed them for. Beyond a Tarantino-size foot fetish, I don’t know why there are so many shots of feet. At least Breen is not as inept in his visual staging as the makers of After Last Season, a movie so bad it’s just bad beyond measure. Breen knows enough to adequately stage his scenes, which makes his choices all the more curious.
The acting is generally terrible across the board, occasionally breathtakingly bad. Let’s start with Breen himself, who is fairly listless and deadpan throughout. He raises his voice but rarely does he change how he’s responding. He’s aloof and strikingly self-serious at the same time. Breen’s command of his actors is limited to directing them to just ham it up. Most of the actors will exaggerate facial expressions and physical movements, providing more drama. Landrat is trapped by her storyline too early, and so she succumbs to the screaming wife with an Eastern European accent. Autry does no better, looking uncomfortable in every moment onscreen. The worst actor in the movie, easily, is Valene, who squawks in the same pained sing-songy manner with every line with nasally incredulity. The best performance in the film may belong to the mysterious old lady therapist who may not really exist. And yet, she’s the most grounded.
Making the film seem even more alien is Breen’s chaste sense of human sensuality. One of the adjectives on the poster describing the film is “passionate,” but you have to wonder if Breen was just too uncomfortable, or perhaps his female actresses were, to make the onscreen passion a bit more palpable. The very way people kiss in this movie is so chaste. They lean in, pecking each other slightly on the lips, as if one was kissing their grandmother goodbye rather than engaging in uncontrollable passions. They were doing hotter fake kissing in 1940s Hayes code era Hollywood (check out Hitchcock’s Notorious and tell me that Cary Grant-Ingrid Bergman kiss still isn’t hot today). Breen’s passions are so modest and contained. Take for instance a scene of passion directly following a spat between Dylan and Emily, one where she threatens to leave him. Apparently that revved up their engines because they start tearing apart one another’s clothes and doing their chicken peck kissing. Breen, as is his usually fashion by this point, knocks over several laptops and throws papers into the air for what feels like a solid minute. Whenever disrobing one of the actresses, be it tearing of clothes or the more gentlemanly “unbuttoning” method, he always stops above his ladies bosoms, allowing a hint more cleavage but nothing beyond. It happens enough that it starts to become a noticeable artistic choice, as is his consistent framing of topless women sleeping face down on their beds. It gives just enough of a glimpse of partial nudity without revealing more (all four main actresses will go partially nude at some point in the film). This puzzled me because I was certain the only reason these actresses were selected is because they likely accepted a part where they would eventually display their physical assets. They’re not here because they can act, that’s for sure.
In fact, the only nudity in the entire movie belongs to Breen himself as he bares his behind while stumbling out of his carpeted hospital room. If you dare look closer, you’ll see the end of his gown catches the end of the hospital bed just so, allowing the flap to stretch and display Breen’s posterior. Either this was a one-time thing and Breen said, “why not?” or, and I think, given the nature of hero complex evidenced, this is more likely, that they kept shooting the scene until the flap caught and proudly displayed Breen’s rump. I suppose in the Garbage Bag Room (a reoccurring dream/nightmare in a space literally lined with garbage bags), there is a nude woman accompanying him, but she’s tastefully composed and likely a body double for Autry. For a man who looks visibly uncomfortable even kissing women, let alone disrobing them, it defies logic that Breen would acquiesce to his own nudity in his own film.
But the question that must be asked of all craptacular movies is whether it is the right kind of bad, the kind made with sincerity in equal measure with its incompetence. It’s one thing to make a bad movie and another to make it purposefully, chasing after the ever-hungry midnight movie crowd, looking to cash in with some canny filmmaking ineptitude (Birdemic 2, people). From everything I’ve gathered via Breen’s interviews, he’s legit. He even has previous movies to his name and I can only hope those will see a wider release. Breen’s film hits that so-bad-it’s-good sweet spot of derisive entertainment enjoyment. I was laughing just as many times as I was shaking my head. However, as a connoisseur of crap cinema, I must say that The Room maintains its throne. Breen’s film is a bit too lackadaisical in its nonsensical plotting and starts to feel redundant, and I’m not just talking about the oft-repeated dialogue. There is a finite level of bad to this film whereas The Room is a thousand brushstrokes of terrible. Breen’s film marvels but it may also test your patience at turns, unless you’ve been drinking heavily.
Fateful Findings is awash in terrible decision-making, to the world’s benefit. Breen and his team have put together a movie that is baffling, ridiculous, and greatly entertaining. From the dropped subplots, repeated laptop abuse, inauthentic human behavior, hazy plotting, laughable special effects, chaste human interaction, strange feet-heavy framing, and that ending, oh the ending is just comedy gold; there’s a little something here for every discerning ironic viewer of bad movies, though the film does lag and repeat its offenses enough that it feels stretched and redundant. I’d say, amongst the spectrum of recent bad midnight movie fare, it’s probably just below Birdemic. I don’t know what the repeat value will be for Breen’s film, or whether it will catch on with audiences like Wiseau’s unexpected success. I can’t even say whether I really want to watch it again, but I will, and with a gathering of friends, and likely with the added benefit of some adult beverages. If Fateful Findings is playing at a theater near you, by means see it and bring your pals along for the fateful experience. It will make you think. Mostly about laptops.
Nate’s Grade: F
Entertainment value: A-