Hal Hartley films are an acquired taste and one that I will admit, has eluded me. So, if you liked “Amateur” or “Flirt” or “Henry Fool” then his latest, “No Such Thing” may be your salvation. I’m in the camp that has difficulty finding any pleasure watching his movies. Moviegoers either embrace his work or are left bored at the obviousness and self-importance of his films, like myself.
“No Such Thing” begins with an up close and personal look at a demon-like “monster” played by Robert John Burke. After killing a television crew sent to uncover him, he sends a confessional tape back to the media outlet that sought him out as kind of a “f**k you.” Enter aspiring journalist Beatrice (Sarah Polley) whose fiancé was a cameraman killed by the creature. On her trip to find the monster she becomes the only survivor of an airline disaster, which lead the public to believe that she has some magical powers. Beatrice continues on her quest and finds the monster living on an island off the coast of Iceland. He is immortal and disgusted with human evolution and wants to end his life but is doomed to live forever. She forms an unlikely friendship with the beast who promises that he will stop killing people if she will help him locate a Dr. Artaud. This doctor’s unorthodox scientific methods have developed a device that can destroy matter and hopefully put him to rest.
Complications arise throughout the story from Beatrice’s boss, played by Helen Mirren, who constantly seeks ways to increase the ratings of her media outlet while manipulating the story behind the scenes. This sounds clever and is surely meant to be a commentary on the media while played for laughs, but it comes off as amateurish and like a bad student film. The film also boasts perhaps the worst musical choices ever featured in a movie. The score is just plain bad and inappropriate for the scenes it accompanies. A good musical score can create a tone or mood and sometimes help us gain insight as to how the characters feel. With such a weak and often distracting musical score, the scenes just lay there and play out. Worst of all are the unbelievable performances. Beatrice feels nothing upon meeting the monster who killed her fiancé. We never see her grapple with her emotions about her dead, her newfound fame, or her unlikely situation. Because she hardly acts human, it’s hard to identify with her or any of the other cut-out characters Hartley has created for the story. Which perhaps, Hartley would say is the point — the monster is the only human part of the film. Yet the ridiculousness and unrealism weigh on the points he is trying to make. Yes, the film is an allegorical modern fairy tale with plenty of pretty obvious social commentary, but if I can’t identify with one character or be made to care, then what’s the point?