For bad movie lovers, there are few things guaranteed to get pulses racing more than the prospect that some misbegotten cult favorite isn’t just a bad movie for the ages, it’s the next The Room. The Room occupies a weirdly rarified place in the trash cinema realm as, to quote the title of a documentary about Troll 2 (a previous honoree), the “best worst movie.”
The Room is the gold standard for exquisitely, transcendently, historically unself-conscious awfulness, but in recent years its position has been threatened by Neil Breen’s Fateful Findings. The movie has an unmistakable The Room quality, if only because both films are the works of homely middle-aged men the world might otherwise ignore, but who look in the mirror and clearly see a younger, sexier Ryan Gosling with Steve McQueen’s swagger and James Dean’s effortless, timeless cool.
Like The Room‘s Tommy Wiseau, Breen is unwisely obsessed with sharing his unclothed body with the world, but while Wiseau thrust the image of his naked ass grinding into the minds, subconsciouses, and nightmares of his audiences with brutal, nightmarish force, Breen treats his audience to scene after scene where his top is ripped off in a sexual frenzy, revealing a hairless, bird-like chest Breen apparently imagines will send women into fits of erotic ecstasy.
Astonishingly, Breen seems to understand the mechanics and psychology of sex even less than Wiseau does. Wiseau at least seemed to have seen a few Cinemax erotic thrillers and surmised that roses, forgettable R&B music, sexy red dresses, and ass-thrusting are essential to the act of making love. The sex scenes in Fateful Findings feel like they were ghost-written by a 10-year-old boy who has yet to be given the “facts of life” speech and imagines that babies are the product of two adults awkwardly hugging each other standing up, sometimes in a shower with one party rocking a dinner plate-sized bandage on his face, and sometimes in the presence of the many laptops that are Fateful Findings’ primary set dressing.
“Imagine a version of The Room that’s 10 times as ambitious and twice as incompetent.”
To get a sense of the film’s delirious lunacy, imagine a version of The Room that’s 10 times as ambitious and twice as incompetent. Wiseau might have sought out to be Marlon Brando and Tennessee Williams in the same disturbing-to-look-at package, but Breen sets out to be Marlon Brando, David Lynch, a Nicolas Sparks romantic hero (and for good matter, Nicolas Sparks), a Spike Lee-style provocateur with a kitchen-sink approach to social commentary, Alan Pakula when he made All The President’s Men, and Douglas Sirk in the 1950s.
Wiseau made a movie about the duplicity of women and the tragic futility of being a nice guy. Breen made a movie about everything, including magic. The film opens with a pair of children — a boy named Dylan and a girl named Leah — on a hike through the woods who discover some rocks that have some manner of magical power, though the exact nature of that power remains ambiguous throughout the film. Many thrillers thrive on an underlying sense of mystery; with Fateful Findings, that mystery often takes the form of, “What the hell is going on?” Having now seen it, I can only offer a feeble and insufficient answer to that question.
Dylan grows up to be a best-selling author played by Breen himself, who looks like someone was molding a replica of David Duchovny’s face and, after getting 10 or 11 crucial things wrong — a turkey-like expanse of wobbly neck fat where his chin should be, a weird, unruly net of hair — just decided to give up and leave the mess unfinished. Breen is not bad looking (if your tastes run towards unattractive middle-aged men), but in the strange world of Fateful Findings, Dylan is sexually irresistible to women of multiple generations, despite his predilection for yelling at them as if he were a hectoring Jewish grandma, not a moody cross between Edward Snowden, M. Night Shyamalin’s character in The Lady In The Water (you know, the one whose next book will benefit all of humanity with its genius), and sexy cyber-Jesus.
The now adult Dylan is perambulating about one uneventful day when a Rolls-Royce barrels down the road and hits him with a cartoonish force and velocity that can only be deemed “hilarious.” It’s never encouraging when the formative trauma in a film engenders the kind of sustained belly laugh that comedy professionals dream of scoring at least once in their life.
Dylan ends up in the hospital and the prognosis is grim. Nobody thinks he has much of a chance of survival, including an attractive blonde woman in scrubs who volunteers, apropos of nothing, that this strange mystery man is not her patient but she’ll check in on him anyway.
This at first appears to be a wonderfully unnecessary, irrelevant detail, like The Room tossing in a character with cancer as an afterthought, but in the world of Fateful Findings, there are no coincidences. It turns out that this comely medical professional is Leah (Jennifer Autry) from the opening scenes, despite the fact that she looks a good 20 years younger than the haggard-looking middle-aged man with whom she once shared a childhood. Apparently those magical stones caused one of the young sweethearts to age and wither at a markedly faster rate than the other.
“Breen’s conception of politics is as childlike as his conception of sex and romantic relationships.”
Unfortunately for Dylan, he already has a partner in Emily (Klara Landrat), who he slinks out of the hospital to have bloody, bandaged, stand-up shower sex with after making a miraculous, possibly magic stone-powered recovery. Alas, Dylan’s relationship with Emily is not magical in nature, nor have the schmaltzy forces of fate designated her his soulmate, so their coupling is innately doomed, especially after Emily proves herself unworthy of a genius sex bomb like Dylan by getting addicted to the pain pills he heroically refuses to take.
Dylan is supposed to be writing a follow-up to his debut novel, but he’s got more important things to do. It seems he’s got a side gig as the world’s greatest hacker, using the many laptops littered around his office to hack into government and corporate files, and he’s discovered more incriminating information than any hacker in the history of the universe.
What kind of incriminating information? Fateful Findings doesn’t bother wasting its time specifying exactly what Dylan is doing as a whistleblower. He’s blowing the whistle! He’s delivering a lid-blower that’s blowing a lid off all the bad stuff the bad guys are doing, with the money and the lies and the corruption! Dylan’s revelations are so shocking and profound that when he announces them in a press conference (where he is hilariously and unconvincingly green-screened in front of a Washington, D.C. tableau), they compel all of the bad people who are doing the bad things to confess publicly, and then commit suicide in dramatic fashion as penance. The film is, remarkably, a political thriller with no politics. Breen wants to expose the covert machinations of the powerful, but his conception of backroom statecraft is as childlike as his conception of sex and romantic relationships. He comes out against the stealing and the cover-ups and the hypocrisy and the lies and whatnot, but that’s the extent of his political commentary.
Fateful Findings is paced and scored like a massage so sleepy and glacial that it puts even the masseuse to sleep. It has the hypnotic, disorienting quality of a waking dream, in part because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to regard the action as anything vaguely resembling reality. Really, the only way Fateful Findings would make any sense at all would be as the elaborate, narcissistic fantasy of power and sexual virility experienced by a sad baby-man just before he dies after getting slammed by a Rolls-Royce at what appears to be a hundred miles an hour. I haven’t even mentioned Dylan’s beer- and car-loving best friend, whose wife kills him and makes it look like a suicide, or the sexy teenage girl out to seduce Dylan, because honestly, there is far too much craziness in Fateful Findings to chronicle completely in a mere 2000 word essay.
On an episode devoted to the film, one of the commentators on the glorious bad-movie podcast The Flop House noted that what truly great films and truly terrible films have in common is an exhilarating element of unpredictability. You literally never know what’s going to happen next. That’s true of Citizen Kane. It’s also true of Fateful Findings. Because it inhabits so many different genres and understands so little about each one, it’s impossible to predict whether a specific scene in Fateful Findings will be devoted to Breen’s weird sexual issues, his messianic sense of specialness, the weird splashes of David Lynch-style gothic surrealism, or his child-like understanding of romance, whimsy and magic. The Room is a slave to convention by comparison.
“Fateful Findings doesn’t want to be a great bad movie; it just wants to be great.”
That’s what makes the film so endlessly fascinating. Breen isn’t just free of the rules and dictates of professional filmmaking. No, he’s also free of the rules and dictates of logic, sanity, and rational, adult thinking. In Fateful Findings, there is a gulf both tragic and poignant between the man Breen clearly imagines he is and the reality, as well as between the film Breen imagines he’s making and the film he actually produced.
The promise of outsider art is that, whether through neurology, psychology or history, there are some people who see the world differently than everyone else does, and they create art or entertainment or psychodrama that powerfully reflects that unique understanding or, in the case of the Wiseaus and Breens, lack of understanding.
Like The Room, Fateful Findings is less fascinating as a coherent, comprehensible work of art or entertainment than as a revealing window into its creator’s rampaging madness. As such, its rewards are infinite, its mysteries captivating. It’s a worthy successor to The Room in part because it never aspires to be the next great bad movie. Fateful Findings doesn’t want to be a great bad movie; it just wants to be great.
That almost embarrassing sense of intimacy is only enhanced by the fact that you cannot buy a DVD of Fateful Findings on Amazon, nor rent it from Netflix, although you can stream, rent, or buy a digital copy of the film on Amazon. I purchased this much buzzed-about cult sensation directly from fatefulfindings.biz. Breen shipped it out in a screener with no packaging, just a no-nonsense case, which added to the feel that I was procuring Fateful Findings straight from its creator’s warped mind.
Nothing destroys a great bad movie like an excess of winking self-consciousness, by a need to let the audience know you’re in on the joke. Not only is Fateful Findings not in on the joke, it inhabits a world where jokes do not exist, only trembling sincerity and tone-deaf earnestness. It is this earnestness that makes Fateful Findings something special. A movie that does everything right is an absolute miracle, but so is a movie that gets everything wrong, and now that I have been introduced to Breen’s surreal world, I can’t wait to delve back into it again and again.
My Certification: Fresh
Tomatometer: N/A (Audience Score: 30 percent)
Follow Nathan Rabin on Twitter: @NathanRabin