The Misguided, 2017.
Written and directed by Shannon Alexander.
Starring Steven J. Mihaljevich, Jasmine Nibali, Caleb Galati, and Katherine Langford.
After planning to leave the city with his girlfriend, a young man must first betray her in order to save his brother from a deadly situation.
The last thing I expected to think about while watching The Misguided was Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk movie, but such is the way the mind sometimes works. You may be wondering how an independent Australian dramedy evokes a superhero film, and the answer is in the worst possible way. Anyone who has seen the latter will easily remember the amount of crazy nonsensical editing it was filled with. It was though the editor Tim Squyres had come upon a file of fancy pre-rendered transitions and decided to use all of them for the hell of it, no matter the narrative sense.
Transitions aren’t the problem with The Misguided, but they reflect a looming issue throughout it which is the lack of technical focus. My first thoughts while watching it were this had to be the work of an aspiring film student. So many oddball decisions were made during the course of the movie, from confusing cinematography to strange editing to outright amateur mistakes. For example, The Misguided opens up with grainy nighttime footage as the character of Levi meets his step-brother Wendel. Given that the filmmakers were clearly unable to obtain a camera that was capable of working in low-light situations, even a dabbler in movie-making could have suggested shooting during the day with a smaller aperture to give the idea of dusk without the risk of grain.
Or take the filming itself. There are parts where, within the same scene, the type of cinematographic techniques alternate. One moment the camera is stable, the next it’s in motion, the next it’s flat-out shaky cam. Some people may suggest that there was a stylistic decision behind this choice, and I in turn partially suspected the director, Shannon Alexander, was doing this for the purpose of showing the mental state of the subject: i.e. the more handheld the shot, the more on the verge the character was. But that proved wrong since everything was inconsistent. I couldn’t discern any another possible pattern, leaving me to believe it was just an ill-fated idea.
But wait, there’s more! During The Misguided, several on-screen mishaps occur, involving either haphazard edits or bizarre inserts. In my notepad, I recorded some of them, though there were probably more that didn’t get written down: random slo-mo, two shots of a cat, colored static tears as though you were viewing a damaged VHS tape, random rewinds and fast-forwards reminiscent of a DJ’s turntables, documentary-style zooms and out-of-focus frames, and sudden jerks as though the cameraman pulled away after the director yelled “cut” and the editor simply forgot to end the scene before it in the final version. I figured there was probably some purpose to them that would get pointed out in the end, similar to the single frame inserts in David Fincher’s Fight Club. Sadly, that disclosure never happened.
Why I am talking so much about the technical aspects and not the story? It is true my attitude in the past has always been to focus on the narrative that is being told as it wouldn’t be fair to compare a blockbuster, which can afford millions of dollars worth of equipment, to an indie production operating on a shoestring budget. But, as I said earlier, the errors being made are so basic and in-your-face that it feels insulting to get through the 1 hour, 30 minute runtime.
Regardless, the plot is not anything to write home about either. To start with, it’s worth pointing out that the synopsis is misleading to a large extent as it literally only concerns the last third of the movie. And given that The Misguided’s official trailer indicates the same, I am left to conclude that this was a deliberate choice on the part of the marketing team. Why focus on just the final act? Because the first two thirds are incredibly boring.
We are technically introduced to all the characters in the first hour: the aforementioned brothers and main protagonist Sanja, who dates Wendel before leaving him early on in the movie for Levi. And theoretically we’re supposed to be get to know the cast in this expositional period. However, that doesn’t happen. Yes, you learn some things about them like Wendel being a bisexual drug user and Levi a prospective job hunter, but you don’t get to know how they came to be in these situations of life. Why did Wendel even start doing drugs? Why is Sanja’s dad a temperamental a-hole? Why did Levi drop out of college? Do not expect any substantial answers, nor any decent substitutes.
At the very least, one would think a premise involving a brother dating his brother’s ex would provide a degree of sexual tension or entertainment, but Alexander is evidently not interested in that. What she’s instead interested in is doing one part Requiem for a Dream, one part Blue Valentine, minus any of the intelligence both works possessed. Showing how substance abuse can have an impact on everything, including people within a third degree reach might have been a fascinating avenue to explore, but instead we get scenes of juvenile, raunchy dialogue that make Kevin Smith’s post-Dogma works sound like Shakespeare.
The acting, like in most indie works, is fine save for a couple of actors. Steven J. Mihaljevich, who plays Wendel, does a good job portraying him as a regressed addict, making him sound out there even when his head is apparently in the game. Most of the film’s humor (and I emphasize there isn’t much) comes from him. Caleb Galati on the other hand, who plays Levi, could not have been more monotonous if he tried. For the majority of the film he uses the same pitched voice with the same tonal delivery. I might have fallen asleep listening to him were it not for the fact that he, for obvious reasons, shares most of his scenes with Sanja actress Jasmine Nibali. She’s the clear thespian of the group, and manages to liven up most of her dialogue, no matter the dullness.
Oh, and you’re probably asking why I haven’t mentioned Th1rteen R3asons Why star Katherine Langford at all given that she was so heavily promoted in the trailer and gets first billing on IMDB. Well that’s because she’s in maybe five, six minutes of the total film. It’s The Mexican all over again- if you’re looking forward to The Misguided because of her, you will be disappointed.
Look, I’m not someone who likes to trash independent movies. This is where, without the typical constraints of Hollywood, art is allowed to flourish. The independent market is where we got great movies like Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Pulp Fiction, Boys Don’t Cry, Memento, and the recent Moonlight. People operating in this field need as much support as they can get, and I am happy to provide that.
But The Misguided was ironically the victim of misguided intentions. If there was some production problem that occurred during principal photography or in the post-process, I would be happy to take that into consideration. However, I cannot find anything about its filming days anywhere, forcing me to rule it the victim of a creative misdirection. Avoid viewing The Misguided if you can.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ /Movie: ★