Movie Review - The Discovery (2017)

Charlie McDowell seems to have gone to the M. Night Shyamalan school of filmmaking. His second feature like his previous The One I Love (2014) is structured around a weird, science-fiction or supernatural premise, ending in an even weirder twist. The twist in his previous was more on the level of Unbreakable (2000) or Signs (2002). The twist here is a bit more ambitious and wants to be as game-changing as The Sixth Sense (1999) or The Village (2004). However, the twist here only diminishes what came before. It doesn't enrich or add any kind of insight that wasn't there or was obscured. At least, the twist for The Sixth Sense or The Village proved those films to be effective thrillers or well-constructed horror films. Here, what starts out as a somewhat intriguing drama ends as a lame and non-compelling romance that is the least convincing thing in a story about proving the afterlife.

Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I Love You, Man) stars as Will Stevenson, a neurologist on his way to an island where his father lives and works. He's very calm and rational. He's low-key but very scientific. He has a bit of a sardonic wit, as he'll make snide remarks at things. His goal though is to get his father to stop doing what he's doing. In the process, he falls in love with a suicidal woman whom he hopes to save.

Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Carol) co-stars as Isla, the suicidal woman in question. Other than her tragic back-story, she's feisty and a spit-fire. She's bold but she's also a bit cynical, not as much as Will. She still has a bit of faith perhaps.

Robert Redford (All the President's Men and All is Lost) also co-stars as Thomas Harbor, a doctor who has invented a machine that he thinks proves the existence of the afterlife. His need to do so comes from the suicide of his wife some years prior. Thomas divorces himself from religious terminology, as he marches forward with his research.

Unfortunately, McDowell also divorces this entire movie from religious terminology or even commentary. Because of that divorce, the movie feels hollow or as devoid of meaning as a holiday like Valentine's Day. It's supposed to be about love and people caring for each other, but all it ends up being is empty gestures.

As morbid as it sounds, the empty gestures in this movie are the suicides. Thomas' so-called proof results in people killing themselves to get to the afterlife. The reason they're empty gestures is because McDowell never roots them in anything real. They're so empty that one can never buy them.

It seems silly for example to talk about the afterlife without any reference to the major religions on Earth. The fact of the matter is that for most Americans and most people on Earth, there is no need for proof of an afterlife because they already believe in God. Whatever Thomas is doing wouldn't trigger the series of events here like the suicides or any of the characters' reactions unless we accept that religion doesn't exist at all. That's a huge hurdle, which this movie doesn't overcome.

Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.

Played at iPic Westwood.
Available on Netflix.


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