by Andre Couture
It’s usually hard to begin sorting out your thoughts when it comes to cinema that challenges your understanding of how ideas are communicated through film. It is even harder to sort out those thoughts when the film in question is Fateful Findings. The film was written, directed, edited, stars and is distributed by Neil Breen, a man whose creative process proves enigmatic to many — even those who have been following him since 2005, when he released his first feature-length film Double Down. Fateful Findings, Breen’s third film thus far, has picked up traction as one of his most popular, and one of the most across-the-board eccentric storytelling experiences ever committed to film. And, of course, it’s his most accessible film. Remember this.
The film opens on a boy and girl playing in the woods. The boy kneels in front of a mushroom and shows his friend. The mushroom turns into a box with a stone cube inside. The boy takes the stone believing it to be a lucky charm, where the girl comments that “you can’t leave a box empty, it’s bad luck!” and grabs a handful of gems that were somehow lying right next to the magic mushroom-box to fill it back up again. The children bury the box and run off. We then see the boy and girl parting ways, as she and her family are moving. The next sequence is a horribly drawn-out series of shots showing the boy and girl pretending to wave as if they were extraterrestrials miserably attempting to calibrate their limb movements to the gravitational pull of this strange, miserable planet. Later we learn the boy grows up to become our main character, Dylan, a brilliant novelist played by the talented Neil Breen. We first see him exiting a building, on the phone. He seems to be talking to someone, but he says nothing whatsoever. His wife is on the other end, talking to him. She acts as if he is conversing with her, but he is not saying anything. There is a feeling of a bizarre dreamlike state here, which leads Dylan to start crossing the street in front of the building. He stops and sees a car coming towards him slowly. He stands still. The car hits him. It’s hilarious.
Welcome to the first 6 minutes of Fateful Findings.
The story and order of events really don’t make any sense (another reason this movie is hard to write about). However, watching it unfold in front of you proves an entertaining unraveling of Neil Breen’s psychological tapestry. Breen’s films follow a main character that runs through mostly the same routine: misunderstood for his noble attempts to improve humanity and expose and/or overthrow the corrupt government establishment, the main character gains god-like powers to aid in his quest to restore the inner workings of the United States government and dole out true justice to the American people while achieving a celebrity status, to the satisfaction of all American people. Fateful Findings is a main offender to this formula, but I didn’t spoil the movie for you. Far from it. I’m merely warning those reading about the vague political messages conveyed throughout the film. So if you would feel offended by implications that the U.S. government would ever display unsatisfactory ethical behavior that some or most would contest or challenge, I would recommend avoiding this film.
And I’m not keeping the film’s politics vague in order to maintain a neutral standpoint here; every film of Breen’s is devoid of details in the political realm. Each “startling discovery” consists of the unveiling of “secret documents” hidden from the public concerning “controversial issues.” I may have gotten more specific than Neil Breen ever has, at least in Fateful Findings’ case. But the film isn’t about the politics at all in the end. It tells its story while weaving through mysticism, alcoholism, and true love.
How exactly Dylan earns his powers is a complete mystery, and one that you’ll likely give up on ten minutes into the movie. The strange stillness in spaces visited by characters evokes the same dreamlike quality from that first six-minute segment and makes you stare at the screen until you feel uncomfortable. Many shots include characters just standing there, waiting to recite a line. The aforementioned uncomfortable moments apply here as well, almost in a sneaking way, since we don’t know when this actor or actress is supposed to speak. In its moments of incompetence, it surprises us on a level of human spontaneity and indeterminacy, mixed largely with indecision. After a while, the movie makes you watch it in a different way, one that challenges you to accept the bizarre atmosphere as normal. Even if this happens, you still find moments that just make you want to claw your brain out.
I have to be careful not to destroy a genuinely brand-new filmgoing experience by spilling too many details, because almost every other moment in this movie is pure gold. Long story short, the girl from the beginning of the movie grows up to work in the hospital that Dylan stays in after a car crashed into his face. This leads to a hilarious Phantom of the Opera-esque wound dressing, topped off by a mask and nose respirator on top of his half-face cast. His mystical stone powers allow him to heal and leave the tiny hospital for home, where he takes a shower with his wife. Much, much later in the film, Dylan speaks in front of the White House during a press conference (which only five or six very important people are attending) about what he has found in his solo government hacking project. This makes the five or six very important people ashamed that the American people know the truth, leading each to commit suicide one by one. Even when you least expect it, batshit insanity lurks behind every creative corner in Neil Breen’s masterpiece.
There is a fascination to be had here about Neil Breen and his films. The most important thing to get across about him and his movies is that he truly is passionate about what he does, and each film he makes he tries to make better than his last. Jean-Luc Godard himself said “In order to criticize a movie, you have to make another movie.” Breen truly wants to make the best film he can make and he’s proving it to his fans and new filmgoers alike. It would be easy to watch just one of his movies and dismiss him as the next Tommy Wiseau or put him in a category of filmmakers who purposefully make midnight movies, but the difference in Wiseau and Breen is one of drive and passion and not desired commercial success or brand recognition. I for one am hanging on Neil Breen’s latest developments, truly curious to see what he comes up with next. It’s totally fine if it involves a formula that is 95% similar to his previous films. But in that other 5% lies the creative variety that Breen thrives on and excels in, the true unpredictable nature of his ordering of events.
In Fateful Findings, you’ll find yourself strung along as you witness seamless links between a fatal accident, strong spiritual mystic powers, a failing marriage, true love decided at eight years old, a love triangle, another failing marriage, a drug overdose, a murder conspiracy, a social justice hacker discovering the truth by hacking the government’s mainframe via numerous blank-screened 20-year-old laptops, and a hyper-successful novelist gaining even more notoriety by appearing before the American people delivering a statement (presumably on live television?) denouncing the political system. Neil Breen has crafted a true American classic by masterfully melding everything great about American dramas, political thrillers and god-like super-powered character narratives.
No wonder this film did so well at SIFF last year. So do yourself a favor and watch Fateful Findings. You can currently find it in Scarecrow Video’s Midnight Madness section, which is part of their Best of SIFF collection.
André Couture is a known nerd living in the great city of Seattle. He watches ungodly amounts of failed cinematic works, writes music, self-produces the terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE Hamburger Theatre podcast, volunteers at the great Scarecrow Video, eats occasionally, reads incessantly, edits video & audio, plays way too many tabletop games, and sometimes goes to work.