❉ Jonathan Sisson looks at the film which saw Breen’s cult popularity explode.
Fateful Findings (2013) was the film that really garnered Neil Breen mainstream attention. It was the film that internet commentators like Your Movie Sucks first took up as the latest thing in ‘So-Bad-They’re-Good’ cinema and led audiences and cinephiles to discover his body of work, resulting in an explosion in his popularity. But this new found fame had one drawback; whilst everyone was laughing, no one was evaluating.
Following a-near fatal car accident, novelist and computer scientist, Dylan (Breen) begins hacking into government secrets whilst having to deal with his drug addicted wife, the advances of his neighbours’ amorous teenage daughter, his own clinical depression, his best friend’s alcoholism and mysterious “suicide,” along with various shadowy figures who seem determined to stop him, all the while aided by a supernatural crystal he acquired as a child when out exploring the woods with his long lost love, who chance has deposited back into his life.
After a brief prologue in which we’re introduced to a large, mysterious book housed in a secure storage facility, we’re treated to a flashback of Dylan’s childhood where, along with his friend Leah, he discovers a magic mushroom in the woods, which marks the spot of a buried treasure, namely, a small black cube and some beads. Dylan retains the cube, Leah takes some of the beads, though not all, inexplicably claiming that leaving the box empty would be bad luck. She then takes up a whole page of her diary to write “It’s a magical day!” before, as Dylan’s voice-over tells us, they go their separate ways and never see each other again, waving goodbye as Leah and her family drive away in a 2010s model 4×4, down a suburban street lined with cars that couldn’t be any older than 2006, despite the fact that this whole sequence should take place in, say, the 70s.
Cut to the present, where Dylan, emerging from the offices of his therapist, and engrossed in a phone conversation with his wife Emily (Klara Landrat) drops his phone whilst crossing the street and, as he bends down to retrieve it, is violently struck down by a Rolls Royce “It was the Rolls Royce that hit him! I saw it! I’m a witness!” cries one Australian-accented onlooker, despite the fact that Dylan’s body his lying directly in front of said vehicle, the radiator grill of which is decorated with his blood. The passenger of the Rolls Royce, who looks in body like Lara Croft in stripper heels (we never see her face) slinks out and attempts to retrieve the cube from where Dylan dropped it, but is warded off by ghostly “Wooooooo!” noises and stock plugin smoke effects, allowing Dylan to weakly retain his lucky charm.
After this, the film takes a distinctly subjective turn which, upon first viewing, may give the viewer the impression that the narrative is just a series of random events, and yet, in actuality, Fateful Findings displays a clarity and confidence of handling thus far unequalled in Breen’s oeuvre. It may be Lynchian, but repeated viewings reveal an interconnectedness of scenes and events not immediately apparent at first glance. As with all of Breen’s work—with the possible exception of I Am Here…. Now—we are left uncertain as to how much we as an audience are supposed to take as objective reality, but for the first time in a Neil Breen film, there is a clear cut-off point where the wish fulfilment fantasy begins, along with an in-universe explanation for it; namely the car crash and the fact that Dylan is a disenchanted novelist undergoing therapy, who was never able to let go of his first childhood love. Indeed, the prologue could be read as a romanticised flashback or dream recounted to his therapist during one of their sessions.
It is rather telling that the when Leah (played as an adult by Jennifer Autry) steps back into Dylan’s life and accidentally reveals herself by dropping her childhood diary causing it to open at the entry she made when they found the treasure, it’s in the form of “Der Doktor at der Hospital” (as Polish-accented Emily describes her); almost as if our hero is still lying there in a semi-comatose state and has developed Florence Nightingale syndrome. From a narrative perspective (and from Dylan’s), Dylan has wandered out of hospital, still in his gown and with his lovely little Breen bottom on display, and made it all the way back home, where, in a highly uncomfortable and bizarre scene, his wife cuddles him in the shower as the naked Breen smooshes himself up against the soaked, nighty-clad Landrat as his smashed, bandaged head bleeds everywhere.
Dylan recovers miraculously quickly, yet all is not right. We see glimpses of a man with polished shoes who appears and disappears into thin air (could this be some sort of Lynchian shadow archetype who represents reality catching up with Dylan? Or Dylan himself?), and his next door neighbours, Jim and Amy (David Silva and Victoria Viveiros) argue and drink constantly, upsetting their eavesdropping teenage daughter Aly (Danielle Andrade) and making overt the marital strife that bubbles under the surface of Dylan and Emily’s own relationship. Soon Emily is even steeling Dylan’s pills, going so far as to retrieve them from the toilet at one point when he decides he no longer wants to take them. And even if Dylan really did physically recover from the accident, the fact that he’s not only on medication for his injuries, but refuses to take medication for a pre-existing psychological condition, should clue us in on the fact that we are free to interpret events as objectively or subjectively as we see fit, yet the film is often so random on its surface, that a subjective interpretation is the only one that really fits and if we take that approach, Breen’s “incompetence” no longer seems like incompetence at all anymore but stylisation.
True, many of the performances suffer from Breen’s naive editing style; this is especially true in Landrat’s case, since she appears to be giving several readings of the same lines for the benefit of the editor, or pausing as she’s fed lines off-camera before delivering them. Yet Breen uses the whole take rather than the usable trims, so it looks like roughly assembled raw footage, giving a jarring, halting quality to her performance. In an interview with Talent Spotting Magazine, Landrat —a successful model — expressed that this was her favourite film role because it was so challenging; the interview was conducted before the film was released. Had Breen realised that she was acting with the final edit in mind (as professional editor would have done) her performance might have been highly praised, and indeed, so would Autry’s (her performance during the first scene where Dylan and Leah are alone together by a lake after meeting at a party a few days previously, and her genuinely convincing expressions of trauma when Dylan discovers her in a trailer following a kidnapping are particularly worthy of note).
Nevertheless, if you just run with the idea that their performances (and the soap operatics of Silva and Vieiros) are all a result of Dylan’s dreaming imagination making things up as they go long, it works, and adds to the sense one is experiencing a semi-lucid dream. The fact that, unlike previous Breen outings, the action takes place mostly indoors in suspiciously similar rooms (ie, Breen’s own house) could be read as an unconscious representation of Dylan’s confinement to his own body and hospital bed, whilst the scene outdoors represent his mind reaching semi-wakefulness (especially the dream-like scene at the start of the final act where he drives out to the desert to meet the supernatural forces who have been aiding him and asks, “Should I be afraid?” and is confronted by the huge magical tome we saw at the beginning, which is hinted to be the history of his life). Mysteriously, the film occasionally cuts to a black room; a cut-price, black bin bag version of the abyss from Under the Skin (2013), except with a naked Breen and Autry locked in a tender embrace, rather than a naked Scarlet Johansson being the worst casual pick-up ever, and most viewers interpret these scenes as visions from inside of Dylan’s cube, but they could also play out as the moments Dylan is closest to death and is clinging on to life.
Even his therapists; a male psychiatrist obsessed with giving him drugs and who, it’s strongly hinted, is receiving information about his “research” from his Emily (“He’s writing about government secrets!” She proclaims during a mystery phone call) in exchange for supplying her with drugs, and a mysterious, supernatural figure in the guise of a wise old woman who offers cryptic words of encouragement, seem to echo death and life figures, as well as possible representatives of the shadowy government forces trying to stop him and the elemental forces of nature aiding him. Even the relationship between Jim and Amy is a sickly, dysfunctional one of life and death since Jim, a man who lives life to excess with his heavy drinking, lecherous advances and Ferrari obsession is ultimately murdered by Amy (a banker, like Emily, and as we shall see, association with financial institutions is consistently tied with death). Jim’s death provokes the film’s most famous scene, the “I can’t believe you committed suicide” moment, which is exactly as it sounds; Dylan, cradling Jim’s bloody corpse, repeatedly announces his disbelief at the possibility of Jim’s self destruction just so we’re clear he’s labouring under the false impression that his best friend did himself in. “I can’t help you out of this one,” he adds helpfully.
Ultimately, proceedings have a strong wish fulfilment element; teenage nymphet Aly tries to seduce Dylan (but only because her parents, particularly her father, are neglectful of her); Emily, a banker, conveniently dies of a drug overdose just as life-giving doctor Leah steps back into Dylan’s life (and literally as they make love in the woods where they found the treasure so many years earlier), and, climactically, when Dylan announces the results of his hacking activities at a press conference on the steps of a courthouse, all manner of corrupt corporate executives and politicians immediately kill themselves to much applause; no one even tries to stop them. Significantly, one be-suited individual announces, “I resign today, as president of… THE BANK!” and blows his brains out.
It’s a scene that prompts laughter in most viewers since it is ridiculous, and if the Panama Papers proved anything, the rich never get punished for their crimes, nor do they fear punishment, but it both completes the circle associating obsession with financial gain and self-destruction (a theme worthy of Fritz Lang!), and summates Dylan’s power fantasy; as a writer he is powerless against the injustices in the world and has been driven to therapy, but bashed into a coma by the accident, he is free to live in his own little world where he can solve not only global problems and ultimately win against evil, but can have everything he wants as well; we last see him walking off into the forest with love-of-his-life Leah, but not before giving one final, uneasy glance back as the ominous hooting of the vapour-like supernatural entities that have been monitoring his progress throughout the film ring out across the landscape. Could it be a last warning cry from Dylan’s own unconscious that his happy ending is nothing more than delusion?
❉ Support the artist! You can order Fateful Findings directly from Neil Breen at http://fatefulfindings.biz/
❉ For details of the forthcoming DVD release of Twisted Pair (2018), you can follow him on Twitter: @NeilBreen
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Jonathan Sisson studied Moving Image at the University of Central Lancashire and produced several short films. After that, he became an actor and has appeared in several film and television productions. Jonathan Sisson’s 2001 film ‘The Institute’ is now online on Vimeo and can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/193049022