Archenemy follows a teen with big dreams of becoming an online social journalist who falls upon a drunk homeless man who claims to be a Superman-like being from another dimension, who, upon saving his own dimension from oblivion, was dropped into our dimension with none of his powers.
While this film isn't horror at all, I couldn't help but review it, because it is the follow-up feature of Adam Egypt Mortimer, who directed my number one film of last year in Daniel Isn't Real. While this film clearly didn't possess the horror elements of his previous installment, I was still very excited to see how his unique visual style and well-crafted storytelling would translate to an action-thriller of sorts. The anticipation was mildly satisfied, with a mixed bag that is primarily at the whim of opinion.
Firstly, Mortimer uses his style to bravely try different visual mediums, and in this case he drove home the film's commentary on the comic book world by having part of the film animated in a comic book-like style. While I appreciated the approach, my personal response to the animation was underwhelmed. I couldn't get into it. While the illustration style and color scheme was sharp and vibrant, the animation itself felt like a makeshift intro for a first-time indie game. And while I was accepting of it in the opening moments of the film, as it persisted throughout, it proved to disconnect me from the film rather than enthrall.
The performance of Joe Manganiello as the superhero-turned-drunk-homeless-man is top-notch. I could watch this character develop over a trilogy of films, as I found his chaotic yet caring nature combined with the moral dilemmas of his past and present to be engaging and heartwarming. The drunkenness, the brutality, the genuine care for others, the depression, the guilt, the erratic behavior...it makes you as entranced by his character as the teen following him around.
While I found the unique visual takes on possession in Daniel Isn't Real engrossing, the same cannot be said for my feelings towards Archenemy. While I feel Mortimer's skill has a lot to offer in his future in filmmaking, I had a personal distaste with many of his decisions in Archenemy, even beyond the choppy, cheap animation. The wonky "action" sequences are choppy and oddly edited. I feel like the film is building to this crescendo of brutality, and while that does happen at times, it's mostly off camera or cut awkwardly, complete with weird shots of CG blood splatter. Where Mortimer showed a deft ability to convey horror visually, the same cannot be said for action sequences that never felt choreographed creatively or naturally. The big showdowns are inevitable letdowns.
The film as a whole builds a world that is very intriguing, feeling like a mix between a comic book origin story and The Soloist. I was desperate to see where Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) would end up, even if it was a depressing, disappointing end. The film feels like it's tackling commentary on mental illness, alcoholism, idolization of fictional heroes, our obsession with making it big online, and tastefully on the economic divide...all the while never speaking heavy-handedly or losing its charming yet somber personality.
Mortimer's follow-up effort wasn't the mind-blowing experience that Daniel Isn't Real was for me last year, but it was by no means a failure. He proved he is technically sound in his execution as a filmmaker, which is something that promises to be consistent in all of his films. Many of my qualms with the feature are personal preference; some may gravitate towards the animation style while others may catch the subtle satire of the action sequences...but for me, it simply wasn't as entertaining or as satisfying. Yet, it still has an original feel to it worth seeing, and I'm still very much looking forward to Mortimer's next film.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 4/10 Horror Quality: 2/10 Film Quality: 7/10
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