In movies — and perhaps in real life — hallucinations can be fun. Dave Stimple (Adam Edwards) is having many of them, but he’s not enjoying himself. And it’s no wonder — he sees monsters, blood and gore, and they occasionally cause him to sleepwalk and land in … a swimming pool.
That’s the central concept behind the surrealist comedy Nothing Really Happens, which might remind you a bit of the paranoid nightmares that are trademarks of the two Davids: Lynch and Cronenberg. Director and writer Justin Petty has picked an ambitious path to follow in this two-part suburban sci-fi, horror opus. The challenge of making a series of stream-of-consciousness events into a specific-enough whole that carries its own dramatic and comedic weight is not for the faint of heart. It’s a noble effort that partly succeeds, but largely in the second half of the film. Prior to that, you might find your attention wandering when logic and probability go out the window. We end up wondering about a lot of things, especially why David puts up with such intolerable, dumb people who seem to plague his life. The explanation here is that he’s in an emotional morass and doesn’t have the will to pull himself out, or as one observer puts it, he’s too much of a pussy.
“The film opens like gangbusters, with vintage TV commercials for the mattress shop starring Dave’s father.”
The film opens like gangbusters, with vintage TV commercials for the mattress shop starring Dave’s father. The commercials are distorted, staticy and full of jump-cut glitches, as old, degrading VHS tapes might become. But the jump cuts and static seem to carry over into David’s real-life experiences, and he begins to feel a little loopy because of it.
Otherwise, conversations, and there are a lot of them in Part One, ramble a bit incoherently, but are meant as a set up for Part Two. It’s then that the film begins to pick up steam, and the strange happenings in the first part are more or less explained.
We see David and his impossible to please wife, Jess (Lindsay Gustin), his neighbor, Randy (Bobby Dornbos), and friend Carl (Joseph Graham), who are as annoying as they are eccentric. His impossibly dim-witted sidekick, Miguel (Sami Ismail), who works at the mattress store David inherited from his family, seems to be existing in a distant galaxy — mentally at least. Strange things start happening, among them, piles of poop speared with tiny French flags pop up on David’s neighbor’s lawn. The mystery gets weirder when an old woman appears in front of David’s home one night and makes some puzzling pronouncements.
“…finally coheres into a story — if you stay with it.”
Carl, a metaphysics-talking strange-o, plays a significant part in tying together the loose ends, as much as that’s possible in such an outlandish story. He binge watches videos of dream studies guru Dr. Hubbard (Stephani Palmer), which curiously enough have the same flickery look we’ve seen in the mattress commercials.
Can all of this be tied together into something that makes sense? For the most part it does. Nothing Really Happens finally coheres into a story — if you stay with it. Speculative fiction fans will probably get a boot out of it, but exercising a bit of patience is a key requirement in getting to the bottom of this strange, somewhat scatalogically fixated tale.
Nestled into the closing credits, the director gives a shout out to the “greasy coke-head director” that told him you can’t make a movie without money. Obviously, this is evidence that proves him wrong. It’s hard not to like the spirit behind that.
Nothing Really Happens (2018) Directed by Justin Petty. Written by Justin Petty. Starring Bobby Dornbos, Adam Edwards, Kam Franklin, Joseph Graham, Lindsay Gustin, Sami Ismail, AJ Latta, Anthony Obi, Stephani Palmer, Anna Tran.
6 out of 10 Peyote Buttons