There is almost something admirable about Serenity‘s fearless embrace of its off-the-wall premise, however, this isn’t enough to compensate for the lack of compelling material surrounding its insane plot twist.
It has only been a few weeks into the year 2019, and we are already being treated to what could possibly go down as one of the most outlandish films of the year. Serenity, written and directed by Steven Knight, is being advertised as a sexy neo-noir thriller set on a beautifully scenic island with Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway starring as ex-lovers with questionable morals. Despite appearing to be a murder mystery tale, Serenity is revealed to have more in common with films such as Vanilla Sky and Westworld as this acid trip of a film delivers a plot that no one will see coming.
Serenity transports us to the tropical fishing island of Plymouth, where we follow Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey), a fisherman eager to forget about his shady past who is consumed by his obsession with catching an elusive type of tuna each day. Dill’s life is upended one day when his ex-wife (Anne Hathaway) approaches him with the grim proposition of killing her abusive husband (Jason Clarke) during a fishing expedition in exchange for $10 million.
Short on cash, with the added incentive of wanting to protect his son from his abusive stepfather, Dill is tempted to compromise on his morality and comply with Karen’s request. In the midst of this moral deliberation, Dill begins to realize that other inhabitants of Plymouth (Diane Lane, Djimon Hounsou) may have agendas of their own, as there could be a larger secret surrounding the tranquil island.
Right from the opening scene featuring a score that would feel at home in the latest Michael Bay action film, there is a discordant tone to Serenity. From the bizarre dialogue to the schizophrenic pacing, the film immediately feels poorly constructed despite the pedigree of its stars. This air of artificiality makes the film incredibly difficult to dive into as nothing about the character interactions or tone feels genuine.
After a mounting level of ludicrous plot turns that include characters being telepathically linked and a slender man with glasses magically appearing near McConaughey’s character at the same time each day, the film presents a daring plot twist in its third act that explains away the film’s earlier shortcomings. Without giving anything away, it turns out that there is a reason most of the character exchanges feel so strange. What remains of the film, however, are unsettling events that are effectively undercut as the suspense of whether Dill and Karen will go through with their murder plot no longer feels relevant in light of the game-changing reveal.
To the film’s credit, Serenity offers a boldly creative twist, which offers glimmers of intrigue as the audience is eager to decode the secrets of the island. However, this thriller is ultimately the type of film that is solely constructed around a particular reveal, which offers little else of interest. In other words, the film starts as a stilted, contrived drama and then morphs into a dull affair in which you couldn’t care less about what happens with an interesting, albeit insufficient plot twist flimsily holding these two halves together.
Ultimately, Serenity fails to be a satisfying experience, yet it is the type of failure where you can’t help but be in awe over how the idea was conceived in the first place. It is almost admirable how fearlessly the film went all in on its insane concept, not unlike the similarly eccentric concept film The Book of Henry. Most moviegoers, however, are likely to have felt strung along by the promise of a noir thriller, as the insane plot twist will no doubt yield a monstrously volatile reaction over the weekend.