2013 / Director. Michelle Danner.
HELLO HERMAN is a film with an important message and yet, sadly, it has been conveyed poorly. It tells the story of a 16 year old boy who walks into his school and opens fire, killing 45 people. He is arrested and sentenced to death and his execution is broadcast live to the nation. In his last days he requests an interview with a subversive video blogger and attempts to tell his story. With high school massacres becoming something of a pop-culture in the United States, there have been some important films dealing with the subject. ELEPHANT, BEAUTIFUL BOY and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN come to mind. They're all excellent films yet none of them actually explore the problem... but rather, they focus on the consequence. And so HELLO HERMAN can be commended for daring to peel back the layers of American culture and holding a proverbial mirror up the nation. It looks at issues like bullying, cyber-bullying, violent video games, absent parenting and various other contributing factors. None of these things are pinpointed as actual causes but are considered collectively. It could have been a very powerful film but it was packed with a whole lot of disappointment for me. Firstly it looks like a midday movie of the week with it's dull and uninspired cinematography and design. There is nothing appealing or visually arresting at all... and perhaps the film's biggest ruin was its opening title card, which read "Sometime in the not too distant future". This is a cop out for some incredibly flimsy constructs, which remove most of the film's credibility. This unknown future setting has given the filmmakers licence to exploit an ill-conceived satire as well as a preachy premonition. The film makes ludicrous leaps and demands a HUGE suspension of disbelief when it expects us to accept that a 16 year old boy would not only be executed but his death would also be televised to the nation. On top of that we are expected to believe that he goes from arrest to execution within a matter of weeks. Such massive absurdities take away any power that the story might have had. And then there's more... an irrelevant subplot involving the video blogger's misguided youth takes up a lot of screen time and distracts from the more important themes. On a positive note, most of the performances are good. Norman Reedus (Walking Dead, Boondock Saints) is well cast and young Gerrett Backstrom does an excellent job as the confused and neglected teenage killer. Another oddity is the appearance of Andy McPhee, the Aussie tough-guy actor who most people down under will recognise. The director is Michelle Danner, one of the most respected and revered acting coaches in the world. She has been celebrated by the likes of Spielberg and Scorsese, amongst others and yet she also appears in HELLO HERMAN as the killer's mother - and to say that her own performance is terrible is an understatement. Really, it's that bad. It bums me out that a film with so much potential can be so badly made. This is an example of too much social commentary and not enough focus.