Saturday, March 2, 2024

“HE WENT THAT WAY”

THE STORY – Accompanied by his pet chimpanzee, a celebrity animal trainer picks up a hitchhiker, only to discover his passenger is a cunning young serial killer.

THE CAST – Jacob Elordi, Zachary Quinto, Patrick J. Adams, Troy Evans & Alexandra Doke

THE TEAM – Jeffrey Darling (Director) & Evan M. Wiener (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 95 Minutes


“He Went That Way” is billed as a thriller based on real-life events that seem too preposterous to be true. We’ve certainly seen plenty of serial killers presented onscreen, from acclaimed films like “The Silence of the Lambs” to recent television hits like “Black Bird” and “The Patient.” Director Jeffrey Darling’s new film depicts a serial killer in a different light, as an animal trainer and a chimpanzee accompany him. Still, the narrative fails to be anywhere near as engaging as the premise. It’s the sort of fascinating story that could’ve been much better than it is, especially since the chimp ends up being more interesting than either of the two human characters. The movie premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and was unfortunately released after the passing of Darling (who died in 2022 from a surf accident).

Darling’s film begins with a voiceover that seems to be that of Jim (Zachary Quinto), an animal trainer, but we later learn that it is the voice of his chimpanzee, Spanky, who has become famous on things like “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show.” It’s no secret that Bobby (Jacob Elordi) is a serial killer, as the first scene shows him driving a car with a bloodied, clearly dead man in the passenger seat. So, when Jim offers Bobby a ride to Chicago, we’re nervous and worried, especially when it’s revealed that Spanky is in the back of the car (in a cage). It doesn’t take long for Bobby to reveal his true intention and, as a result, his less-than-pleasant temperament; yet, when he threatens Spanky, Jim does anything and everything he can to protect the chimp. Even though Spanky wears clothes and has spent much of his life being forced to perform for human entertainment, it’s clear that Jim cares deeply about the chimp – who, as Jim continually corrects Bobby, is not technically a monkey. “He Went That Way” takes place during the Vietnam War, which wouldn’t have made much sense if it wasn’t based on a true story. Aside from Bobby mentioning he was discharged and one of his victims talking about being in the Army, this is not a very important part of the story. However, the footage of celebrity trainer Dave Pitts – who inspired the film – helps remind viewers that these events happened. Names have been changed, of course, including serial killer Larry Ranes, who miraculously decided to let Dave live.

Throughout “He Went That Way,” it’s unclear what tone was intended. While it’s possible to balance various tones, Darling was not gifted enough as a filmmaker to accomplish this. It also doesn’t help that Evan M. Weiner’s script can’t decide what kind of movie it wants to be; despite being billed as a thriller, there are no taut and/or thrilling scenes. Also, some lines are probably unintentionally hilarious, as this is not meant to be a comedy. The dialogue is, at times, quite cringy and even cliched, to the point that the viewer may be rolling their eyes; instead of showing us flashbacks of Jim’s or even of Spanky’s life, Darling elects to show flashbacks of other men, Bobby has killed since his spree began. Sure, it provides a minimal amount of backstory on the character – he mentions how badly his father beat him and his mother – but they aren’t used well enough to make an impact. Alternatively, Darling could have shown us more of why Jim is transporting Spanky across the country, which we don’t know more about until the movie’s end. And, despite the flashbacks, Darling’s personality is somewhat inconsistent: he seemingly has difficulty talking to people, including girls he is interested in; however, he has no problem feeling one of them up while asleep. On that note, the depiction of what is a form of sexual assault is not delicately handled in any way and should have been eliminated from the film entirely.

Oddly, even though Elordi is Australian, his American accent is much more convincing than whatever Quinto was attempting to do; it’s some sort of “Fargo”-esque accent that is not believable, and there’s no explanation as to why he would speak that way. After his excellent work in last year’s “Priscilla” and “Saltburn,” it’s quite fascinating to see Elordi go all out in this extremely showy performance. Even when he’s just standing still and staring, he has such a magnetic presence onscreen that it’s hard to ignore. On the other hand, Quinto gives an entirely unmemorable performance, which is disappointing because he has shown his acting abilities before – in things like “American Horror Story” and the newer “Star Trek” movies. His Jim is a character we are meant to empathize with, but because Quinto doesn’t do anything to elevate the lackluster script, it’s hard to care about what happens to him. Spanky, however, is someone we like from the get-go, and we empathize with the fact that he is stuck in captivity.

While Elordi and Quinto take up the majority of the screen time, we also see familiar faces like Patrick J. Adams as Jim’s brother-in-law, who is now a priest. This is an example of when the screenplay gets in way over its head, attempting to tackle more material and issues than it can handle. Darling, primarily known as a cinematographer, may have been better off making “He Went That Way” into a short film. (He hadn’t directed anything since 1996). And, even at 95 minutes long, the story drags, and it causes the viewer to tap their fingers until it’s over. At times, too, it’s far too quirky for its own good, inserting little gags and bits of dialogue that are meant to be at least semi-amusing but are far from it.

Ultimately, the central problem with “He Went That Way” is that Darling, Weiner, and co. attempt to make Bobby at least somewhat likable as a person – to redeem him, even. By the end of the film, Bobby and Jim seem to be on friendly terms (and Spanky too). In that case, presenting a serial killer as a likable person who deserves our empathy is controversial, to say the least. It’s one thing to have an unlikeable person at the center of a film who is not a murderer or a rapist but has other qualities that you can enjoy (for example, Franz Rogowski’s chaotic lead performance in “Passages“). But it’s a different story when you attempt to humanize a character like Bobby. With a more gifted filmmaker (and writer), this story could’ve been something really fascinating. Alas, the direction and messy script fall short.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Jacob Elordi continues to impress in a highly showy role, emphasizing his cinematic magnetism. The chimp is adorable and a scene-stealer.

THE BAD - Despite such an intriguing premise, the story is dull and fairly uninteresting, filled with cliched and lousy dialogue. Tries to be much deeper than it is, with an attempt to almost make the serial killer likable. Zachary Quinto's performance is uninspired, and his confusing accent is distracting.

THE OSCARS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 3/10

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Alyssa Christian
Alyssa Christian
Longtime cinephile and self-described movie snob who’s probably too obsessed with awards season. Also an actor, writer, flutist, and vegan.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Jacob Elordi continues to impress in a highly showy role, emphasizing his cinematic magnetism. The chimp is adorable and a scene-stealer. <br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Despite such an intriguing premise, the story is dull and fairly uninteresting, filled with cliched and lousy dialogue. Tries to be much deeper than it is, with an attempt to almost make the serial killer likable. Zachary Quinto's performance is uninspired, and his confusing accent is distracting.<br><br> <b>THE OSCARS - </b>None <br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>3/10<br><br>"HE WENT THAT WAY"