Over the years, we at Paste have watched a lot of bad movies. Some of the really bad ones, we sought out intentionally. But a bad movie doesn’t transcend its badness, becoming so-bad-it’s-good, just by having a giddy little-kid premise—like a velociraptor pastor or a bed that eats people—or a complete inability to execute its vision. There’s a sweet spot where ineptitude meets ego. Where creativity collides with absurdity. Where earnestness has never even considered irony. When these stars align, failure alchemically morphs into success. It’s a place of sublime sincerity, where misplaced ambition can find an appreciative audience, exhausted by mainstream complacency. In this place, Icarus is a hero; nobody remembers Daedalus’ successful flight. The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s alien elegy for a wounded heart, was the entry point to this corner of bad movies for many. But as it fades into self-awareness, aspiring bad-movie devotees should look right next to it on the Mt. Rushmore of bad movies and find Neil Breen’s Fateful Findings.
Premiering a decade after The Room (and a decade ago), 2013’s Fateful Findings boasts everything that made Wiseau’s game-changer so irresistible. Its legacy has none of the post-boom “it’s a comedy” retconning or Rocky Horror overkill that its creator has tried to capitalize on. Breen isn’t here to play the game. He’s not going to pretend to be “in on it.” He’s everything Wiseau was when he made The Room: Mysteriously wealthy, recklessly self-sufficient, thematically obsessive. His work is so deeply strange that anything recognizable as human adds new insights into Jung’s collective unconscious. It’s not just that Breen does everything himself. There are plenty of enjoyably awful vanity projects out there (GetEven and Fatal Deviation are great places to start). But Breen does it all so singularly that he can’t help but be an auteur—unknowable, yet instantly recognizable.
Breen makes movies that involve, as our resident bad movie expert Jim Vorel explains, “the oft-nude director playing an ultra-competent ladies’ man fighting for some sort of cause…head-spinningly bad editing, exploited young actresses, a near-total lack of proper audio recording, totally transparent criticism of ‘the corporations’ and lines of dialogue repeated so many times that you start to wonder if you’re watching some kind of avant-garde experiment in audience provocation.”
You understand why I’m such an advocate.
As Breen’s sixth movie, Cade: The Tortured Crossing, washes over those already calling themselves Real Human Breens, let me welcome you to his breakout endeavor. Fateful Findings is an ethereal, uncanny blend of a mystical Chosen One fable, a romantic melodrama and a political thriller.
It’s like The Room, in that it’s all sprung fully-formed from the forehead of one eccentric Zeus, and in that you have no idea what’s going to happen from scene to scene. It’s like All the President’s Men, if it ended with a montage of everyone involved with Watergate killing themselves, one after the other, after explaining to the camera that they messed up and want to die. Also, in this one, Robert Redford can teleport.
Dylan (Breen) is a put-upon mega-man. Everyone wants to fuck him, everyone wants him to write another novel and everyone wants to find out what kind of information he’s uncovering in his highly important, highly covert, highly off-screen hacking.
The plot of Fateful Findings involves Dylan reuniting with a childhood crush as he readies his vague exposé on…well, everything. “I’ve been hacking into corporate and government international secrets, all over the world,” he declares. All the while, he embodies the masculine qualities Breen treasures: A smug abstinence from medication, an intolerance for weakness, a jack-of-all-trades intellect, an inescapable sexual gravity, a nagging bossiness and a vague libertarian idealism befitting the Nevadan.
“I’ve got a damn master’s degree. In computer science. And I turn out to be a writer. Of novels,” Dylan’s voiceover explains.
He’s also a playful Casanova—seducing women by horking down a bite of undressed spinach while making an “Ain’t I a stinker?” face—but sex cannot control him.
“I need you to go away now,” he tells his horny wife.
He’s as disciplined as a monk, and cannot fathom the frailty of others. When his friend is murdered—the scene staged to look (sort of) like a suicide—Dylan sounds frustrated, like his kid quit the football team after an injury. “I can’t believe you committed suicide,” he repeats, painted in his friend’s blood.
So many egosploitation movies involve this kind of unlikely Übermensch, and Breen fits right into their star system. As a performer, Breen is as hypnotic and confounding as Wiseau. There isn’t the tacit xenophobia underlying our enjoyment of Wiseau’s unpredictable pronunciations, only the harrowing reminder of what it looks like when a regular person stands up on the big screen and acts like a sex king.
His deliveries are pointed and standalone, with each phrase parsed into its own sentence like they were fed into him on punch cards. Middle-aged and monotone, there is something vaguely reptilian about the filmmaker even before he takes one of many opportunities to reveal his hairless body. Small black eyes peer out beneath a wavy mullet, shaggy and crawling down his face in thick sideburns. Even when smiling or screaming, he seems to have no expression at all. But then there are his gestures. Breen has exquisitely active hands and a dedication to physical business, constantly touching and throwing things around set. Not every actor would so brazenly pour coffee all over his face as they fail, weakly, to sip it.
But what elevates Fateful Findings above traditionally bad personality-driven dramas, and into the upper tiers of oddball masterpieces, is the magic.
As a child, Dylan and his friend Leah (later played by Jennifer Autry) find a powerful arcane stone, which looks like one of those black stress-reliever fidget magnets you can get at the mall Brookstone. This rock materializes out of a mushroom, and attracts the attention of a recurring CG wisp, which looks like the smell vapor upon which a hungry cartoon would float. As Leah says, and writes down smack-dab in the middle of her diary, “It’s a magical day!”
Though the earthly matters at hand in Fateful Findings are surreal enough, every once in a while the movie remembers that there are ghosts and spirits afoot. The middle hour of the 100-minute film is distinctly domestic, despite a few strange dreams where Dylan (nude, naturally) sits in a room with black plastic walls. It’s spooky in a way, and also looks like he’s been thrown away and is now trapped inside a giant Hefty bag.
In fact, much of Fateful Findings has an unsettling, trash-adjacent aesthetic: The slow tracking shot through a self-storage facility; the loud, discordant sound effects; the continual presence of entities shown solely from the waist down, usually accompanied by the fishing-line rattling of curtains or the turning of a random ram’s skull. Breen is an inhuman filmmaker, but his attempts at Lynchian otherworldliness are just as revealing as his other artistic tics.
The shadowy figures always accompany Dylan’s grand anti-authority ambitions to “expose” various cover-ups and frauds, about which he will not elaborate further. They are the physical manifestations of the Men in Black, the institutional puppetmasters operating beyond Breen’s perception. Dylan’s superpowers, on the other hand, are extensions of Breen’s masculine perfection. He can teleport through walls, but only to save a damsel in distress. He can instantly recover from perhaps the funniest hit-and-run ever filmed, without the pathetic crutch of painkillers. He can deflect bullets, so that he can speak his truth.
These forces, either empowering Dylan’s quest or seeking to impede it, come up less than you might think. They’re color. They’re both a wacky glimpse at the indecipherable mythology informing Fateful Findings’ more quotidian moments and additional motivation for Breen’s messianic character. They’re the unfamiliar, startling, “what the fuck is going on?” side of his auteurism. The other side is far more straightforward, though no more comprehensible.
As Fateful Findings goes on, you’ll start to notice the Breenisms that make him stand apart as a bad movie maestro. The self-aggrandizing, the wooden affect, the genre buffet premise—these are all normal parts of a Z movie, especially one that’s not going for pure exploitation. But the recurring details are deeply endearing.
Yes, Breen’s characters say what they mean up front, and immediately say it over and over again to make sure everyone heard and understood them. But this repetitive instinct also manifests in the production design. The camera slowly pans over rows of the same props, bought in bulk. Half a dozen oxygen tanks, matching coverless books, and so, so many laptops—all clearly nonfunctional and treated with violent whimsy. Breen returns again and again to the same blocking, the same camera set-ups, the same locations that you can’t help but think are all parts of Breen’s actual home. In other movies, slapdash affairs churned out by professionals, you’d think these were all merely cost-cutting, runtime-padding moves from the Roger Corman school of thought. Here, it feels like this is how Breen’s world truly is: Comfortable because of built-in redundancies, where quantity gives quality a run for its money.
Then, there’s the nudity. Unlike Wiseau, who is clearly a Skinemax fan, Breen is like a shy but insistent exhibitionist. The Room’s scarring sex scenes were still clearly sex scenes; Fateful Findings is ashamed and/or confused about the machinations of sex. Breen is clearly comfortable with his body, making sure we see both cheeks when he wears a hospital gown, pointedly exposing a single nipple during a makeout and embracing an uncomfortable, nightgowned scene partner in nothing but an Elephant Man-like face bandage. At one point, he rips his own shirt open, like he couldn’t wait to give someone their Christmas present. To make any work of art is an act of arrogance. With a movie like Fateful Findings, the arrogance becomes the art.
The final scene, a masterclass in what one can accomplish with stock images and sounds, is both Fateful Findings’ amazing climax and its moral thesis. Naturally, a movie disgusted by drug addiction and so devoted to marital fidelity that Dylan’s wife must die so that he can mack on another woman has intense, black-and-white ethics. As Dylan delivers his green-screen press conference to an audience of Getty images and applause effects, we’re reminded of how childlike—yet how like a modern blockbuster—these ethics are.
As he gives his speech, revealing that he has obtained secrets rather than revealing the secrets themselves, the bad guys defeat themselves. A businessman, a senator, a bank president, a congresswoman, an insurance company representative, a Wall Street broker—these symbols of institutional power all speak at the same press conference, then kill themselves in a montage that’d send Eisenstein back to the drawing board. They can’t just go to jail, or resign. They must die, and by their own hand, so as not to bloody those of Dylan.
Like much of Fateful Findings, this tactic reflects a familiarity with mainstream movies (think of all the action films and superhero showdowns where the main foe is killed by his own hubris) if not an understanding. Breen can see how storytelling works. He uses callbacks, moves characters from one emotion to another. But his narrative fails in a way that’s inviting rather than repellent. It’s fascinating, worthy of analysis and investigation, where other bad movies’ hackiness discourages any diagnosis aside from laziness. There’s nothing lazy in Fateful Findings, nothing ironic, nothing less than the straight-faced best effort of someone accidentally revealing everything with their opaque filmmaking. That’s special.
Our Rory Doherty, ready to retire so-bad-it’s-good cinema, writes that “The Room belonged to an era where outsider cinema could only reach mainstream appreciation if it was watched by audiences who thought they were better than it.” There are certainly movies that I feel superior to. Almost all of those movies are crass templates dressed in whatever IP’s skin that its producers happen to own. But when it comes to outsider cinema, I appreciate it because of how desperately, deeply different its version of normal is compared to my own, and how—despite this massive gap in how we see the world—I still find myself lured in, hypnotized, welcomed to share its singular perspective. It can be a hilarious, baffling, endearing shock to the system, but it is also a reminder of how (especially with the very best and very worst movies) art always leaves a lingering, personal, yearning mark. If The Room has solely become an object of mockery, this lucrative transition encouraged by its creator, Fateful Findings remains magic, its repeated lines like incantations that transport us to another plane of existence. Embracing what’s on the other side of the portal, in all of its complexity, is what so-bad-it’s-good movies are all about.
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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