Film Review: Serenity

Paradise Noir

The unusually high temperatures weather this week could have in theory been a very clever pop-up installation advertising campaign for the latest movie release from the Sky Cinema camp under the supreme guidance of none other than Steven Knight. Titled ‘Serenity’ (2019), just like the weather, it was very beautiful, but your mind was screaming ‘what the hell is going on?’

Writer, director and producer Knight may not be a household name to many, but there would be few people across the isles who won’t have seen his work. He’s the creative mastermind behind the phenomenally successful ‘Peaky Blinders’ starring Cillian Murphy, the dark and wonderfully sinister ‘Taboo’ with Tom Hardy, and he wrote/directed one of my all time favourites ‘Locke’ (2013) again starring Hardy.

Knight was there to introduce the screening that Flush attended, and he was in fine spirits. With a playful and mischievous glint in his eye he introduced the movie and his reasonings for being so delighted it. He immediately acknowledged that it had been getting some negative reviews, and to his absolute credit, he wasn’t making excuses for it.

Speaking about being so permanently embroiled in the studio system (does he ever take holidays?) for so many years, Sky Cinema were in a position to get behind him and set sail with ‘Serenity’, which he wrote and directed. He clearly relished this opportunity as so many of the newer studios are able to offer storytellers the funding and distribution network to get their stories out to the world. And regardless of the size of a production, that is essentially what is always happening, from gathering around the flickering camp fire, to the flickering images on screen, it’s universal stories we are being enraptured with.

Another huge bonus to this production with Sky Cinema is the support that they can offer in regards less obvious commercial tales, so they allow and nurture creative talents such as Knight to explore, experiment and flex their abilities into new terrains, or indeed dimensions.

Matthew McConaughey plays Baker Dill, a pretty washed up obsessive drunkard fishing captain of the small game fishing boat Serenity. McConaughey clearly channelling the early years of Captain Quint (Jaws) and super saturated in Hemmingway libations with a splash of PTSD, he’s a deeply troubled soul in a seemingly idyllic land and sea. Harboured in the fictitious paradise tropical island of Plymouth in the middle of the Indian Ocean, his daily routine is hosting fishing expeditions for rich drunk indifferent tourists, whilst immediately servicing his primal needs after, and repeat.

Given the title of the movie, everything is anything but bliss. The surface may look truly beautiful, and this is a truly gorgeous looking movie, but in his closing words at the screening, Knight said ‘nothing is what it seems’ (ie the title). There’s a deep and brooding darkness behind the glorious radiance of nature sweeping across the screen.

Drifting into Dill’s turbulent waters comes his ex-lover (and mother of his estranged young son) Karen Zariakas (Anne Hathaway), a pristine femme fatale who has some deep emotional hooks embedded in Dill’s soul no matter how much he thinks otherwise. She left Dill years ago for the gleaming trappings of a very rich husband Frank Zariakas (played by the outstanding Jason Clarke), only for the gild to turn bloodied very swiftly and now she is trapped in a very violent relationship.
She believes salvation awaits in her potential saviour Dill, if he kills the brutal Frank.

We were very fortunate to have had Knight introduce the film, as in his brief talk he somewhat prepared us for what was about to disembark. Clearly relishing the opportunity to tell this story, it has a great many influences, overt and under the surface. There are elements of the Twilight Zone, The Matrix, Black Mirror, classic film noir, and science fiction. It deals with loves, losses, deep-rooted traumas and how we cope or don’t cope with them, and the mechanisms/worlds we construct around us to just to try and survive each day.

Knight’s clear joy indicated (to me at least) that this wasn’t some poe faced journey, it was to be enjoyed, relished while having hidden depths that could resonate long after. That helped a great deal as having gone in cold, I wasn’t initially sure what it was trying to do, but that constant unease is in itself essential in the final outcome.

Again it is a truly beautiful looking movie, filmed on the sublime island of Mauritius, it will have everyone booking flights immediately after seeing it, especially as the normal February grey rains are back. 

The cast are relishing every note, word, and movement in an artificially saturated world, that really is too good to be true.

Once I decided upon and settled into my Twilight Zone filter, I immediately relaxed and immensely enjoyed the whole journey to insanity and beyond. Every decision (for better or worse) makes sense by the ending, but the overriding joy of watching one of the best directors around flex their creativity evermore, will always have me first in line to board their next adventure.

‘Serenity’ is out 1 March in UK and Irish cinemas and available on Sky Cinema.