DIRECTED BY: Vincenzo Natali
FEATURING: David Hewlett, Andrew Miller
PLOT: Two losers must learn to abide each others’ company when the entire universe
outside their house disappears, leaving them alone in a vast field of nothingness.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The outlandish premise and accompanying visuals make this speculative buddy comedy mildly weird; it’s also an above average independent effort. Nothing lacks that certain something, however, that would put it over the top and turn it into one of the best weird movies of all time. Don’t feel sorry for talented director Vincenzo Natali, though; he has other films which have a shot at making the List.
COMMENTS: Apropos of Nothing, this is a difficult film to review. In the first place, the title invites awful puns (I was tempted to give it a negative review just so I could write “Nothing could be better than this”). The more serious issue with reviewing the movie is that, since it’s set in a literal nowhere with only two characters on screen for the vast majority of the time, its success depends entirely on the ingenuity of the script, and it’s hard to critique without giving away too many spoilers (I almost wrote that it “leaves us with Nothing to discuss.”) Nothing is a celebration of the co-dependent friendship between Andrew, an agoraphobe who has inherited a ramshackle home located underneath the junction of two elevated interstates, and Dave, an abrasive loser who needs a place to stay and someone who can tolerate his company for more than five minutes at a time. As the film starts they have set up a comfortable symbiosis, with Andrew supplying a pad nerdy bachelor pad with cable TV and lots of video games, and Dave taking care of tasks like grocery shopping that would be impossible for his neurotic, homebound friend. Things quickly devolve into chaos through a series of unlikely disasters that result in the harried Andrew and Dave wishing the world would just disappear—which, incredibly, it does. This unexplained event leaves the two alone in a vast field of blank white that stretches off to the horizon, with only whatever junk is left inside their house for provisions. The inventive script milks this minimalist idea for all it’s worth, exploring every aspect of Andrew and Dave’s relationship, and throwing in a new metaphysical twist to keep things moving along just when it seems like it’s exhausted all the possibilities nothing has to offer. Director Vincenzo Natali delights in exploring the uses of “white-screen” technology to frame his scenes, whether its in the beginning when Dave is afraid to step off the front porch and into the void, or at the very end when the advancing nothingness has left him only the barest of visuals to work with. Thespians Hewlett and Miller are appealing in their roles, though neither is a born comedian. The writers, Andrew Lowery and Miller, seem more interested in coming up with new ways to stretch the premise than in making the audience laugh; there are few obvious gags or punchlines. But by pushing the idea of nothing as far as it can go, removing all extraneous characters and sets and stripping the drama down to just two actors, Nothing comes across as quite experimental, like the solution to a writer’s challenge to create a story “about nothing.” It resembles a lighthearted, unpretentious riff on Waiting for Godot. I wouldn’t necessarily make a big deal about Nothing, but its worth checking out to see how a movie can still entertain using only two characters acting against a blank screen.
Nothing was Vincenzo Natali’s third film, after the existential sci-fi puzzler Cube (1997) and Cypher (2002), an overlooked thriller built around the concept of brainwashing. Natali has given David Hewlett at least a small role in each of the four features he has directed. (Andrew Miller also appeared in Cube).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“A crackpot piece of CGI surrealism by the director and stars of Cube, Nothing is a wildly inventive example of how much can be done with not much at all… tells a universal story, minus the universe.”–Jason Anderson, Eye Weekly (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by “Alfred,” who, as a Canadian, felt obligated to nominate it, but also said it was “very very funny, and weird.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)