With its basic premise of a stranger keeping a struggling writer hostage, Black Butterfly (a remake of a 2008 French thriller of the same name) seems, on the surface, like little more than a variation on Misery. For a while at least, Brian Goodman’s film does find some mildly interesting ways to distinguish itself from Stephen King’s novel (and Rob Reiner’s movie). The stranger in this case is not an obsessive super-fan, but a vagabond named Jack (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who Paul (Antonio Banderas)—a once-popular writer now forced to pen screenplays to eke out a living—brings into his Colorado cabin after Jack saves him from getting beaten up in a diner by an angry truck driver.
Only after Jack reads some of Paul’s work does he develop a strange obsession with trying to help Paul out of his writer’s block. This leads to a lot of earnest talk between the two about the art of storytelling, but don’t expect the dense reality-versus-illusion game-playing of Adaptation here. Screenwriters Marc Frydman and Justin Stanley’s idea of self-reflexivity remains one-dimensional at best: Jack merely suggests that Paul draw from real events they’re both experiencing together, going so far as to pull a knife and a rifle on him in order to make the unfolding story feel realer.
All of this lightly postmodern intrigue takes place amid a backdrop of menace, as the small Colorado mountain town in which this film takes place is also gripped in fear over a series of as-yet-unsolved murders that have happened over the past few years. Naturally, this sheds an even more foreboding light on Jack’s behavior, but then, Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Jack in such an overtly creepy manner from the start that Paul’s quick acceptance of him frankly beggars belief. (Maybe Rhys Meyers intends to channel another famous fictional Jack—Jack Torrance in The Shining—just as “Paul” is possibly intended to recall Misery’s beleaguered Paul Sheldon.)
Actually, much of Black Butterfly stretches credulity—especially an ostensibly mind-blowing twist about 20 minutes from the end that is so difficult to swallow it effectively quashes whatever minor virtues the film exhibited earlier. Whatever you may think about the film’s implied view of what makes for compelling storytelling and, by extension, great art, the fact remains that Goodman, Frydman and Stanley are so enamored of their own cleverness that they’re fatally oblivious to the psyches of the human figures populating their canvas. Jack may advocate for an art borne from bitter experience, but seeing these glorified stick figures crowding the screen, one suspects these filmmakers of sorely lacking such worldliness. Instead, Black Butterfly plays as little more than the act of snickering adolescents toying with their audience, complete with an insulting final scene that confirms the film as a total waste of time.
Director: Brian Goodman
Writer: Marc Frydman, Justin Stanley
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Antonio Banderas, Piper Perabo, Abel Ferrara, Nicholas Aaron, Vincent Riotta
Release Date: May 26, 2017
Kenji Fujishima is a freelance film critic, contributing to Slant Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, The Playlist and The Village Voice, in addition to Paste. When he’s not watching movies and writing and editing film criticism, he’s trying to absorb as much music, art and literature as possible. He has not infrequently been called a “culture vulture” for that reason.