A review requested by Mandy, with thanks to supporting Alternate Ending as a donor through Patreon.

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Before watching it, I knew about 2013's Fateful Findings, the breakthrough for writer/director/producer* Neil Breen, only that it was notorious. What made it notorious, exactly, wasn't something I'd followed up on; Breen himself seemed to be a bit of a Tommy Wiseau figure, which in turn suggested that Fateful Findings was probably a bit like The Room, and that was about as far as I ever thought about it.

As it so happens, Fateful Findings isn't "a bit" like anything else (unless it might be Breen's four other features). It resembles The Room only in that both exist in defiance of God's will; where Wiseau's film is a histrionic opera of overwrought romanticism, Breen's is laconic and understated to the point that it barely seems awake. And yet, it is just as gripping in its own way - moreso, even. The mere fact that Fateful Findings is so droning and flat stylistically cuts directly against the unfathomably grand scale of its narrative scope. Let me put it this way: I was flummoxed pretty much immediately by the film's bad movie bonafides, and only got more flummoxed as it went on. The acting and editing were particular liabilities, but the whole thing felt a bit dreamlike in its stilted inhumanity. But I thought I had a grasp on what it was - it was a weird vanity project for Breen, a Las Vegas architect who has enough money to make a regular hobby out of building these DIY film projects around himself as an actor, which at least in the case of Fateful Findings involves a lot of nude scenes and making out with women (these two things do not necessarily overlap. As  such, it was basically just a clunky, overplotted relationship drama. Good, honest, sleazy stuff.

It's clear, though from early on that there's something much weirder about Fateful Findings than the normal ego trip. The opening scene lets us know that this is going to be some kind of fantasy, with kids Dylan (Jack Batoni) and Leah (Brianna Borden) finding a magic mushroom in the forest - not even that kind of magic mushroom; I think Breen just used a portobello from the grocery store - which has a magical stone inside it. Years later, the two friends have never seen each other since, and now Dylan (Breen) is a successful novelist, though with an master's degree in computer science, he hates that this is the turn his life has taken. When we first see him as an adult, he gets hit by a car, and this is the start of his troubles. Something about the accident shakes something loose in his brain, and he recovers unnaturally quickly and leaves the hospital, where unbeknownst to both of them, Leah (Jennifer Autry) was his doctor. He then takes a shower, with his face still fully bandaged, and just gushing blood, I mean, Breen must have poured an entire bottle of stage blood down his legs for the close-up of his feet with blood and water running down them. He's then joined in the shower by his wife Emily (Klara Landrat), who caresses his face, which is, just to reiterate, entirely covered in bandages.

I am so sorry, that paragraph was meant to start out as more of a logline than beat-by-beat plot recap. Fateful Findings has that effect on one's brain - that sense that if you just type it all out, you might be able to make sense of Breen's thought process. Anyway, in short, Dylan keeps having weird mini seizures that appear to be connected to the magic rock he and Leah found, but otherwise, it's banal relationship drama between him and Emily, contrasted with slightly more promising relationship drama between Jim (David Silva) and Amy (Victoria Valene), their friends. It's not actually clear why Jim and Amy are in this movie, though Amy's daughter Aly (Danielle Andrade) is there so that Breen can stage scenes where a nubile young woman makes sexual advances at him, which he righteously turns down.

The first thirty minutes of the film, almost to the exact second, are pretty dreary - the bandage/blood/shower scene is easily the highlight of batshit nuttery, but a lot of it is just stilted, dithering character drama. That's maybe underselling it: it is weird stilted, dithering character drama, with such errant filmmaking that even the most tedious conversations (and they are all pretty tedious, here) are charged up with an almost dangerous feeling. And that feeling only increases when Breen actually brings in the  really fucking weird shit - not just the magic treasure mushrooms. In fact, I can tell you the exact instant when Fateful Findings gave me a good slap and made me realise just what the hell I was dealing with (or rather made me realise that I couldn't realise what the hell I was dealing with) and it's such a shocking moment that I feel compelled to give a spoiler warning: at that 30-minute mark, when Dylan, sitting in his room of laptops, petulantly declares "I'm going to continue hacking into these government systems to see what I can find out... about all this national and international corruption that I know is going on."


This what?

From that point on, Fateful Findings is off to the races, and it never slows down, even though going much too slowly is one of the film's most tangible aesthetic qualities. The trick is that there are basically four movies: Dylan's relationship drama, the torrid soap opera happening with Jim and Amy (who aren't having sex, though at different points in the film, they each blame the other for this), Dylan's discovery of his mushroom-related superpowers, and Dylan's fight against a corrupt political system. Somehow, these never intersect; Dylan-the-crusading-hacker is so far removed from Dylan-who-loves-both-Emily-and-Leah that he literally has to excuse himself at one point from the latter plot in order to attend to the former.

The whole thing is so epically deranged that what I'm about to say next will sound almost as insane as Neil Breen, but I think Fateful Findings could be salvaged with a tighter edit. At 100 minutes, it has ample room to spare, and a tremendous number of its shortcomings are ultimately due to bad cutting. The acting, for example, seems wholly inhumane, with characters glaring and then slowly reciting Breen's clunky dialogue in a way that makes the whole cast sound like the victims of head trauma. This is, maybe, the single most salient aspect of the movie, these glacial, uncertain pauses; if not them, then the bad habit of repeating dialogue. And the thing is, that's entirely about cutting, and not leaving such a gap between the start of the shot and the start of dialogue. The movie basically feels like an assembly cut just waiting for a nice week's work of tightening and adding some insert shots to facilitate cutting out some of the deadwood. And sometimes it's the reverse: if conversation scenes are too dragged out and leave much too much room, scene transitions are exactly the opposite, rushing headlong into the start of scenes at top speed and overshooting where they actually began.

Now, better editing alone wouldn't save Fateful Findings: there's still no massaging those four plotlines into one narrative arc, and the dialogue is still awful, and even setting aside how they've been betrayed by the editing, none of the performances are particularly good. But the editing is so clearly the biggest problem, so perfectly-shaped to make the film seem sluggish and stilted in a particularly otherworldly way that I can't help but wonder: is this a put-on? Did Breen, looking at the massive cult success of The Room and the smaller but still enthusiastic cult around 2009's amateur-hour After Last Season (an alleged money-laundering scam), and decide to make one of those on purpose? I think it is genuinely a possibility. From the evidence of the films themselves, I don't think you could ever prove it one way or the other, and ultimately it probably doesn't matter: if Fateful Findings is indeed a deliberately bad movie, it is more authentically bad than just about any other example of the form I've seen, and I begrudge Breen none of his success: he has made a true original, a film that I literally never could get in front of - it disregards fundamental rules of narrative, causality, and continuity so blithely that it feels actually impossible to predict what might come next.

And it is splendidly bad, when it comes to that. Breen is a wildly uncharismatic actor, looking a bit like the love child of Charles Bronson and Garry Shandling, and he takes great relish in delivering his lines with chewy, glacial slowness, and baffling emphases. This keeps escalating until the climax, a deathly, endless in which he stands in front of a crude green screen effect and righteously insists over and over again that there is corruption, and something must be done about the corruption, so that there is no longer any corruption, and it is mesmerising even more than it's boring. Also, this climax involves an inexplicable montage of all the people he's accusing of corruption appearing at the same press conference to agree that yes, they are indeed very naughty and corrupt, and should be punished. It is if nothing else charmingly committed to the idea that the world can be changed for the better.

Beyond the acting and the post-production and the script, nothing about the film is terrible, at least: it remains in focus and correctly exposed, I could hear every line of dialogue, and there's only one place where you can see a crew member start to walk into frame before they cut away from it. Only one place, in the whole film!

Honestly, that is kind of impressive. This doesn't have the feeling of a Wisseau-esque madman trying to create an entirely new parallel ecosystem to the industry that has locked him out; I said "hobby" at the top, and a hobby is exactly what it feels like, a fun way for Breen to spend his time not being an architect. You can do that when you're rich, I suppose. Or just that narcissistic and manic. My point being, though, there's no support net here; Breen is basically just faffing around, and one expects a certain carelessness to creep in under such circumstances. I mean, arguably, the totality of the script is an expression of that carelessness, though I think it's unfair to characterise it that way: Breen doesn't seem to be breaking the rules of basic story structure, he seems to be ignoring that they exist at all, in favor of chasing whatever demons about interpersonal relationships and corporate & governmental malfeasance, even when he chases them straight off a cliff or into a brick wall, as happens almost constantly here. It is a genuinely unique object, maddening and grotesque and freakishly magnetic, and I can't imagine that I'll forget it any time soon. I don't know how I feel about that.

*/co-editor/production designer/set decorator/costumer/location scout/sound editor/makeup effects artist/casting director/production accountant/caterer.