Neil Breen in Double Down 2005TWITTER/STONEGASMAN

With Tarantino, Scorsese, Villeneuve and the like, cinema today has never been more riveting. From polished blockbusters to intimately crafted character studies, moviegoers today are decidedly spoilt for choice. Yet, despite the privilege, I find myself longing for the comforts of my guilty pleasure: bad (and I mean atrociously bad) films. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about B-Movies. Rather, I’m referring to the likes of James Nguyen’s Birdemic and Tommy Wiseau’s Room – the kind that illicit twisted reactions of joy and bewilderment.

Trawl through the deluge of bad films and you just might find yourself stumbling upon the works of underground filmmaker Neil Breen – the subject of my piece. I had the pleasure of viewing (in full) one of his most renowned works, Fateful Findings: a mishmash of unfinished sub-plots that’s as confounding as it is entertaining. Breen plays protagonist Dylan, a novelist who secretly “hacks into (unspecified) national and international databases” to expose the corruption of the world’s (unnamed) leaders.

Neil Breen in Twisted Pair (2018)TWITTER/LLESUOH

Meanwhile, he struggles to care for his wife Leah (Jennifer Autry) as she spirals into drug addiction, all while enduring the repeated sexual advances of his best friend Jim’s (David Silva) under-aged stepdaughter Aly (Danielle Andrade). To add icing on the cake, Dylan also possesses supernatural healing and teleporting abilities, granted to him by a mysterious black stone he discovers in the woods as a child.

“It is precisely the technical clumsiness what makes Fateful Findings so wonderfully unpredictable at every turn.”

If this plot summary hasn’t already won you over, check out the head-scratching theatrical trailer. A few quirks can quickly be discerned: the laughably wooden acting, the cheap excuses for special effects, and the remarkably low-budget set pieces – just to name a few. Coalesce these elements and the result is, quite frankly, a jarring mess of a movie. And yet, it is precisely the technical clumsiness what makes Fateful Findings so wonderfully unpredictable at every turn.

Somehow, Breen’s trademark style transforms utter ineptness into a masterclass of surrealist, absurd comedy. Notably, there’s a strangely extensive sequence focused on a plate of spinach. This, of course, left many armchair film critics, like myself, perplexed, yet intrigued. And this begs the question: how does Breen elevate near irredeemable trash to cult-classic treasure?

Neil Breen TWITTER/LEEMERICKSON

One reason, perhaps, is that behind Breen’s idiosyncrasies lies a man’s honest and steadfast dedication to his craft. As a filmmaker, Breen is arguably one who’s genuinely independent: on Fateful Findings alone, Breen is director, actor, writer, editor, producer, casting director, production designer, sound manager, and makeup artist. It’s truly an impeccable CV, and the sheer effort alone is worthy of praise. Amid the cornucopia of studio bigwigs and their multi-million-dollar features, Breen also provides a welcome breath of fresh air. Here’s an independent filmmaker spared from the red tapes of corporate bureaucracy, free to do as he pleases. Sure, Fateful Findings may seem like a high schooler’s afterschool pet project, but at least it is his project, and his alone.

Neil Breen (2015) pictured as the Joker, holding a Miller LiteTWITTER/SLIME_CUT

The allure of Breen’s films may also be in how they don’t take themselves too seriously – whether intentionally or inadvertently. Fateful Findings is by no means a thematically rich movie. Similarly, its ideas (if any at all) aren’t particularly thought-provoking. Characters are far from compelling, and even the light dose of socio-political commentary in the film’s closing moments is juvenile at best.

With the absence of any semblance of meaningful filmmaking, viewers are free from any real commitment on their part. There’s no need to ponder on the complexities of the film’s story, characters, themes, or ideas - for there is none. It is an exceptionally lazy affair, one that’s perfect for any occasional couch potato to indulge in.

But the appeal doesn’t just stop there: paradoxically, it’s also the blank slate of Breen’s work that invites audiences to go beyond the passive viewing experience. After all, there’s a reason why Fateful Findings, amongst others, has garnered such a loyal cult following. Fans habitually project their own meanings, derive their own interpretations, and conjure up original theories on Breen’s bizarre features. To this group, Neil Breen isn’t just cheap entertainment. It’s art – and it’s sublime.

Neil Breen in Twisted Pair (2018)TWITTER/GOOFFKINGS

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In short, one shouldn’t dismiss the utility of bad films. Neither should one ever underestimate filmmakers like Neil Breen. Fateful Findings, in particular, is so disastrously bad that it is good – albeit in its own eccentric and absurd way. So, give it a shot – you might just find the film’s subversive beauty to be your cup of tea!

Bong Joon Ho once espoused: “once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”. Echoing director Bong, I shall leave you with this: “Once you overcome the abysmal sub-50% Rotten Tomatoes score, you will be introduced to so many more amazing bad films”.

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