Director’s Cut is one of those films that I’ve been hearing about for years. As a general fan of the magical duo of Penn and Teller, I was intrigued to see what would come of a Penn Jillette film. There was also the fact that this was going to be financed via crowd-funding. Nowadays, it’s just as common to watch a crowd-funded movie as it is a large studio release, but at the time it was still virgin waters. Curiously I waited for months, and finally the whole project slipped from my mind. That was until a few weeks ago. I awake to find a press release in my inbox for the long forgotten Director’s Cut. Now that I have my hands on it, is an Adam Rifken-directed movie written and starring Penn Jillette really worth the wait?
The entire premise of Director’s Cut is an exercise in being meta. The plot revolves around the filming of a crowd-funded movie directed by Adam Rifken, where star-struck movie-backer Herbert Blount (Penn Jillette) spends his time on set working towards his “director’s cut”. Herbert is obsessed with the movie’s main actress, Missi Pyle (who like most of the actors, plays herself). He begins to worry that the movie isn’t giving her the attention she deserves, and sets out to right this wrong himself. During all of this, we get a peak behind the curtain. If you’re familiar with the Penn and Teller stage show, it should come as no surprise that they love giving the audience a glimpse into how things are done. Herbert walks us through what is going on and how it’s done. These moments are very entertaining, and it almost feels like your watching a documentary on film making.
Right out of the gate, I was really impressed with the title sequence. Everything was top-notch, including special effects. There was a “fingernail moment” in the opener that I would like to have scrubbed from my memory. The color grading is reminiscent of the palettes used for Seven, and in the background we have a soundtrack very much in the vein of a late 90’s/early 00’s horror film. The cinematography had me thinking Bone Collector, and even though there was no Denzel, familiar face Lin Shaye shows up. Now at this moment you might be thinking, “this sounds awesome”, and you would be right, but unfortunately this is the movie within the movie (cue deep tone from Inception).
Despite the fake movie within the movie looking awesome, the actual scenes of the “director’s cut” filmed by Herbert are dreadful to watch. And I get it, I promise. Herbert is not a real filmmaker. He’s just an out of control fan who was able to buy his way close to the object of his obsession: Missi Pyle. This is a scary premise. It takes the relatively new platform of crowd-funding and exploits it for a nefarious purpose. Stalkers are a real and potentially dangerous problem, but you don’t really get that vibe from Herbert. Whether it’s his shitty special effects using MS Paint, or atrocious green screen work, what you get is more buffoon than psycho. Constantly dressed in clownish clothing, Herbert strikes me more as a misguided outcast than someone who is out to do harm.
There are a few genuinely creepy moments with Herbert, but at the end of the day, too much Penn shines through to make him believable. On the other side of the coin, we are treated to some speaking scenes with Teller. Teller, who is always mute when performing with Penn, is clearly the better actor of the two. Perhaps it’s the years of communicating as the mute Teller, but whatever the reason, he should have been the creep for this film. The minor character he plays simply oozes being somewhat “off”. Granted, Herbert is supposed to be a real life character, while Teller’s is simply an actor within the movie that’s within the movie (stay with me here).
What ends up really bugging me is that when the credits roll, I find myself more interested in the fake film they were making instead of the actual film I watched. I can appreciate this weird attempt at meta filmmaking, which Rifken is no stranger to. If you’ve been with Modern Horrors since the beginning, you’ll recall that we covered the Killcast, which Rifken helped out with. He really wants to play with this idea of blurring the lines between reality and entertainment. It sounds great as a concept, but he has yet to actualize it in any meaningful way. I’m no Rifken fan, but what he showed putting together the scenes of the fake film really proves that he is more than a capable director.
This was a hard movie to review. Technically speaking, Director’s Cut excels at a lot of things. Unfortunately it falls flat as a horror or comedy movie. Somewhere in the screenplay, these guys had a great idea. They gathered a star-studded cast and crew to pull off what is half of an amazing film. As much as I love Penn Jillette, I feel like he ends up being the weak link. His character is a far cry from the one the crowd-funding campaign promised. Herbert doesn’t scare or strike me as dangerous. At the same time, he’s not really funny or likable. You can’t even feel sorry for him because there is no backstory to the character. Sadly, he is forgettable; just like the film.
Director’s Cut [Review]
The biggest problem is that the movie within the movie is the most interesting thing here. Herbert should come across as a dangerous individual, but instead he strikes you as a big buffoon.