Review: Serenity (2019)

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway are stranded in this seafaring thriller that sinks quicker, the further it ventures.

From the mind that penned Eastern Promises and that wrote/directed the sensational Locke and interesting Hummingbird, comes Serenity, a “sexy noir thriller” that has assembled a quite eye-catching cast but what’s this about a loony twist? A twist in a film, really ought to remain a mystery and yet it has been the main thing everyone has shouted about regarding this Sky Cinema backed and released (same time as it’s in cinemas) production. So is it really so batty or is Serenity an ambitious masterwork in disguise. Well…this is one odd movie that’s for damn sure.

Starting off with moments of initial intrigue, the more the wind blows into this narrative’s sails, the further it carries the film into utter madness. Unlike Knight’s intriguing other work, Serenity has an undeniable idea that has become submerged in confusion. What started as a promising concept has along the way become a vehicle that has been battered from pillar to post, and the story has sadly failed to roll with it. As events lead up to the much discussed big plot twist, you find yourself watching out of strange curiosity as to where you’re heading and once you get there, sadly the film fails to pull it off. Everything post-twist never seems to lock together right and it gets more absurdly turbulent the longer it floats on. Sub-plots shipwreck, logic along with them, and despite some enjoyable scenery, moments of style and passing bits of promise, Serenity just becomes lost at sea, especially as it plays its mad hand so straight faced and self-serious.

The worst part really, is that there are some strong ideas that we float towards, like notions of escaping the brutality of reality or how our own paradise can lead us to dark places with gruesome consequences. There could also be a tale here about the psychological effects of abuses in children, women and family but the clunky script seems to miss the boat almost entirely and instead the themes lack the depth to be fully realised, as some distinctly nasty moments sit in the film while the messages they are meant to ignite feel like momentary justifications for the audacious twist, which still does not stick.

Of the star cast only Matthew McConaughey comes away decent, as his grizzled, obsessive, Moby Dick-like sailor offers some entertainment, even as the dialogue bobs about often unconvincingly. Anne Hathaway however feels entirely wasted, as mysterious Karen, in a part that is unfocused and underdeveloped, like a half-shaded femme fatale, with notes as to who she is and what she wants but not a fully written character. Likewise Jason Clarke’s repugnant turn as Karen’s husband Frank does little to add memorable edge to the story, while Djimon Hounsou turns up for some confusing quasi-religious moments of dialogue and a game Diane Lane is reduced to a side sex object literally spending half her limited screen time looking for her pussy (cat that is).

Jess Hall’s cinematography is nice, in spite of the strange editing and structuring of the film itself, and Benjamin Wallfisch’s soundtrack, while a touch generic, has some atmosphere overall, but this is an unfortunate misfire for Steven Knight. And especially after the taut, poignant, ambitious and powerful Locke, Serenity feels like a real capsize of a next effort.

Stylish at points, Serenity is not so much unwatchable as it is a misguided cinematic oddity that is ultimately adrift in its own bizarre world and unable to return to ours.

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