If there was one catalogue blurb that grabbed attention at this year's Festival it was a collaboration between America and Europe's two most unique film-makers. The prospect of a film produced by David Lynch and written and directed by Werner Herzog should be enough to spark some kind of interest in any film fan, be it for or against the idea. As an end result, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is, perhaps predictably, a bizarre, sometimes intriguing and often impenetrable exercise, possibly designed to counter suggestions that, after Rescue Dawn and Bad Lieutenant Herzog had “gone mainstream”. On this evidence he hasn't, but you have to wonder if maybe he should.
On paper it all sounds so simple: a couple of detectives are called to a murder scene where the killer, Brad McCullum, has holed himself up in a neighbouring house, claiming to have hostages. One of the detectives interviews friends and family of the man to try and understand why he has seemingly snapped. In flashback we are gradually shown, what appears to be, his gradual mental breakdown. It's also based on a true story. But in the hands of Herzog, we are given a surreal, odd and downright testing interpretation of events.
The opening scenes show promise, with the ever watchable and criminally underused Willem Dafoe as the detective trying to piece together what happened. It’s when we start to move in to flashback that things take a turn for the weird and we end up batting around in Herzog's cheese-dream oddness instead. Michael Shannon brings a wild-eyed intensity to McCullum matched by Lynch regular Grace Zabriskie as his smothering mother. The rest of the cast make less of an impression but ably support the main players, even as you find it hard to believe them happily accepting McCullum's increasingly erratic and violent behaviour.
Herzog has clearly aimed to try and make his own “David Lynch” movie here. All the prerequisites are present; oddball characters, mannered acting, unconventional shots and omnipresent minimalist scoring. The result is just as confusing and off-the-wall as any typical Lynch movie you may have seen, only without the American's dark & disturbing streak that he brings to his own more surreal works. The problem, ironically, is also the same as many of Lynch's own projects. It's clear the director knows what he wants and understands why he's doing, but these men's brains seem to work at such unique wavelengths, it becomes hard for the average viewer to engage with such deliberately obtuse material.
This is the kind of movie many hyperbole-rich self-styled “cineastes” will no doubt hail as some sort of triumph. But you have to wonder whether they truly mean it and understand the material in front of them or are just trying to maintain their “art-house” credibility.
For more coverage from the Edinburgh International Film Festival click here.