Thomas’s Guide to the Hereafter: Netflix’s The Discovery, a review

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***spoilers***

Cover image for Netflix feature, The Discovery

Netflix’s sci fi feature, The Discovery- IMDB -cover image

The Discovery is a 2017 Netflix production written by Charlie McDowell and Justin Lader (The One I Love) and directed by Charlie McDowell. Starring Robert Redford, Rooney Mara and Jason Segal, The Discovery considers what might happen if people knew for sure there was life after death. I’ve enjoyed many of Netflix’s productions. Unfortunately, The Discovery was not one of them.

Is there life after death? The Discovery leaves you with more questions than answers.

Robert Redford plays Thomas, a scientist who proves that there is life after death. What is the proof? We’re never given specifics, but the world reacts with a tsunami of suicides. On the hour, the number of people who have offed themselves in hopes of a better reality is updated. People have suicide parties.

The movie opens on a TV interview in progress. The journalist (Mary Steenburgen—director McDowell’s actress mother) asks Thomas if he regrets making his research public. He doesn’t. A crewmember thanks Thomas and then shoots himself in the head.

As a species, knowledge of the inevitability of death sets us apart. Fearing the unknown, we all want to know what comes after.

The scene changes to a ferry. Will (Jason Segal), a neurologist and one of Thomas’s sons, is on his way to see Dad. The ferry is empty except for Isla (Rooney Mara) an enigmatic young woman who runs hot and cold in her encounter with Will. Although Will is opposed to his father’s research, he confides that as a child, he had a brief after death experience. The ferry lands and they part company. Then Will has a premonition. He races to the beach as Isla tries to drown herself and despite her protests, he rescues her.

Toby (Jesse Plemons, one of the best young character actors working—Black Mass, Fargo season 2) is Will’s brother. As they drive to Dad’s new residence, Toby tells him to be prepared for Dad’s project.

I wish I wanted to know more about The Discovery.

There’s an emotional distance. The scenes are dreamlike and like many dreams, emotionally flat. Thomas himself is a cold fish; we have no idea what drives him. The low-key dialogue, almost whispered at times, bothered me. The director wants to keep us at a distance. Why?

Thomas owns a building that was once a private school. People wearing orange jumpsuits roam the grounds. Are they members of a cult? No, we’re told. It sure looks like one. These people are failed suicides, Thomas claims. He gives them purpose. Soon, Isla wanders in and joins the group.

Besides job assignments, there’s a meeting every night and oh yes, there are experiments. Thomas wants a better look at what’s on the other side of death. He’s invented a cap that has a zillion wires attached to it. The wires connect to antiquated video equipment. The idea is to briefly kill someone and then revive him. Maybe the brain camera will record some netherworld home movies.

After another failure, involving an honest to goodness fresh corpse, Thomas is ready to give up. Will, who hates the experiment, accidently discovers that some footage did, in fact record on the monitor.

The monitor’s jumpy images made me want to find some rabbit ears (ask your parents if you don’t know what rabbit ears are) and thump the side of the monitor.

Like every soap opera character in TV history, Will decides not to reveal his discovery, especially not to Dad. Studying the recording’s clues, he decides to find out what it means. Lots of detective work yields little until Isla joins him. Then they fall in love. She tells him more about her life, including how her son died.

As the story meandered to an end, it seemed this film, like Thomas’s wired cap, was an intellectual experiment, devoid of any emotion, its only purpose, to yield data for analytic discussion. Jason does come up with an answer for the why of the afterlife, but it made me shrug (hint—watch Groundhog Day).

Another movie that explores the existence and purpose of an afterlife is 1990’s Flatliners, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts.

Flatliners’ plot centers on medical interns whose experiments resemble Thomas’s. Each intern dies and is brought back by the others. The results are similar to Thomas’s, however, Flatliners kept you on the edge of your seat. It had interesting characters, a dynamic conflict and sharp editing. A remake of Flatliners is scheduled for a September 2017 release.

Will there be a remake of The Discovery? If there is, just shoot me, but make sure you bring the rabbit ears.

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LORD of ILLUSIONS: Lordy what a mess!

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But in a good way.

SPOILER ALERT

This 1995 film, directed and written by Clive Barker begins as many horror films do with the camera showing us all the creepy things that we know spell “time to go someplace else.”

We’re in the desert and looking at an abandoned Imageone story building. There’s an array of small animal bones, skulls, old broken dolls, dead snakes, etc. A group of people drives up and approaches the building commando-style. Inside, there’s a party going on and it’s obvious these gun-toters aren’t there to bring the dip. As these fun-interruptus types barge in, we see someone sitting on the steps. The androgynous figure is a character named “Butterfield” (Trevor Edmond) who is the biggest baddest fan of “Nix.” Nix (Daniel von Bargen) is a mellow-voiced sorcerer who has plans to sacrifice a young girl. The girl cowers in the corner while a large, nasty baboon bares its teeth and tries to bite her. I think the point of the party and the sacrifice is to kill the world and hang around after and gloat, but I’m not sure.

All the party goers are having a great time.

They’re shaving their heads and looking at each other like good sex is going to happen soon. The head of the commandos is a guy named Swann (Kevin O’Conner). Things get crazy and Nix ends up dead and buried with an iron mask nailed to his head to keep him dead. In the meantime, Butterfield who survives the fracas is getting really mad.

So now we jump fifteen years. Swann is a world famous magician.

A new character is introduced-a detective (who knows the “dark-side” we’re told via a flashback and a newspaper headline) named Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) While on another case, Harry stumbles on a murder-in-progress, which happens to be a revenge killing to get back at the people who broke up the party and nailed Nix. Of course Butterfield (now played by Barry Del Sherman) is involved and of course Harry decides to investigate. This takes him to Swann’s Beverly Hills mansion and Mrs. Swann (in name only we’re told), Famke Janssen.

So let’s skip ahead, shall we?

Swann fakes his death; Butterfield is fooled but he still manages to dig up Nix and re-book the party with all the same folks invited and of course they bring their scissors and razors. What fun. Swann ends up in a stand-off with Nix, who is disappointed because he had counted on Swann to help him kill the world and afterwards they could just hang out together. Poor Butterfield is so unappreciated. Harry shows up and of course there’s a stand-off and of course the only people left are the best looking–Scott Bakula and Famke. The world is saved. My guess is both Famke and Scott considered firing their agents after this.

Despite the mess and confusion, mostly linked to the dangling plot lines like –the client who paid Harry to investigate the unfaithful husband, the cool woman cop, the helpful Magic Castle magician who helped Harry find some perfectly irrelevant info, I kept watching.

I think it was because of Butterfield and the party-goers. They were so passionate, so into whatever Nix was selling, it was seductive. The movie came alive during the party scenes and whenever Butterfield showed up. Otherwise I felt as if I was watching some good actors (Bakula, Janssen, O’Conner,etc.) looking like they would rather be having a root canal.  All in all, I’d opt for the movie rather than the root canal, but as far as that party goes, I’m not shaving my head for no one.