The Toronto Film Festival is in full swing, and as the stars promote their prestigious new pictures, news is beginning to bubble to the surface. THR reveals Naomi Watts has signed on to star in Holland, Michigan, the next feature from Errol Morris that is currently in production. Described as a suburban thriller with a dark thread of humor (think Fargo), the film will mark Morris’s fist attempt at narrative features.
Written by Andrew Sodroski, Holland, Michigan will star Watts as a wife deeply wounded when she comes to believe her husband is cheating on her. To get revenge, she decides to begin an affair of her own, but eventually uncovers her husband is not seeing someone else…he’s killing them. Yup, he’s a serial killer. This might seem the stuff of a Lifetime Channel movie, but with Morris directing, I expect Holland, Michigan will prove far more intriguing and complex.
As a documentarian, Morris has again and again made art out of unraveling the tricky truths of taboo topics. With Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leutcher Jr. he delved into the life story of a man who went from respected execution device designer to reviled Holocaust denier, creating a narrative that played out like a Bizarro World Forrest Gump. With The Thin Blue Line he shined an unblinking light on the criminal justice system of Dallas County, Texas, showing it to be corrupt with a plotting that plays out like a thriller. And even in the short form Umbrella Man, he takes a seemingly batty JFK assassination conspiracy, and unravels it with a light touch that makes a curious history totally mesmerizing.
With Holland, Michigan, Morris is taking the leap from documentaries to narrative filmmaking, but his handling of the former has me confident he can manage this transition smoothly. While his documentaries offer a great deal of talking head interviews, the pacing and plotting is always done with a deft awareness of storytelling.
For example, Mr. Death begins as an underdog story of this strange little man who unexpectedly found love with a woman he adored, and success in his work as an inventor. But then comes the court case that turned his life completely around. Morris first bound us to this man, Fred Leutcher Jr, and then begins to show us how he took a journey to defending a notorious Holocaust denier. His approach forces us to see the very human (though horrible) leaps in logic his anti-hero made that turned his life into a shadow of its former glory. This method fuses us to this deeply flawed figure, and forces us to question our own leaps in logic lest we prove a fool on the level of Mr. Death.
Seeing as Holland, Michigan also focuses on a character who clearly makes some seriously flawed assumptions—in this case about her husband’s hobbies—it seems Morris will expertly be able to paint another story that urges audiences to see the glorious flaws that make up our lives. No release date has yet been set for Holland, Michigan, but both Morris and Watts have other projects coming down the pipeline first. For her part, the twice Oscar-nominated actress will be hitting theaters on November 1st as Princess Diana in the biopic Diana. As for Morris, he’s currently playing at TIFF his latest doc The Unknown Known, which focuses on former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld. Check out a teaser for it below: