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BLACK BUTTERFLY (2017) review

May 26, 2017

 

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written by: Marc Frydman and Justin Stanley
produced by: Alberto Burgueño, Marc Frydman, Juan Antonio García Peredo, Andrea Iervolino, Alexandra Klim & Silvio Muraglia
directed by: Brian Goodman
rated: R (for language)
runtime: 92 min.
U.S. release date: May 26, 2017 (limited), VOD, Amazon & iTunes

 

The mystery-thriller “Black Butterfly” offers more than the poster’s somewhat misleading vanilla tagline, but not much. There’s definitely an interesting twist in this story about a struggling writer that turns into something of a psychological and physical cat-and-mouse game. But twists can be tricky (and gimmicky) in that once they are revealed, all the story machinations leading up to that reveal need to fall in line in a revelatory manner and then anything that follows the reveal has to stick the landing that makes you look at the characters or their situation in a new way. Director Brian Goodman captures strong build-up and compelling tension, yet in a movie like this the heavy lifting duties is left to writers Marc Frydman and Justin Stanley, who ultimately wind up frustrating viewers by the time the movie ends. 

Richard has been living alone since his wife left. His reclusion is broken when mysterious vagabond Jack comes to his rescue. Richard offers to put him up for a few days in exchange for some odd jobs. But the press soon starts hinting at a serial killer on the loose. Richard begins to have doubts: could Jack be the murderer? Richard panics and tension mounts when he discovers blood in the house. But what if Richard has his own demons to hide?

On a prime piece of real estate outside a Colorado mountain town resides Paul (Antonio Banderas), a frustrated author struggling with writer’s block and the bottle. Alone since his wife left him and pressured to maintain the multi-level cabin they once shared, Paul implores inexperienced real estate agent Laura (Piper Perabo) to sell his home, but she’s having trouble landing potential buyers, leaving the broke and often inebriated writer to face a dire future since he can’t even afford to pay the deliveries from his local grocer (Abel Ferrara). It’s possible Laura is having difficulty due to the news reports of recent abductions and murders in the area.

 

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During yet another day of procrastination, Paul directs road rage at a trucker he tries to pass on his way to meet Laura at a roadside diner. Not long after his arrival at the location, Paul notices the truck pulling in and begins to act uncomfortable when he sees the driver walk in, knowing he was in the wrong. Sure enough, the angered trucker confronts an apologetic and fearful Paul, who is suddenly rescued by the intense drifter Jack (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a nearby diner patron who physically takes the trucker out into the parking lot in front of everyone. Rattled and offering his gratitude, Paul extends his mysterious rescuer a lift and soon offers Jack a place to stay for the night to further thank him for what he did.

Let us stop right here. Offering a total stranger a ride is a questionable act of generosity. That’s a given. It’s a kind gesture, one out of obligation in this case, but then Paul offers this clearly volatile vagabond a place to stay for the night without knowing anything about him. That’s just a dumb move. Is Paul to lonely and used to isolation to not tap in to the suspicions that would arise for viewers? Also, why would Jack readily accept a ride from a stranger? In reality, neither of these guys would readily seal such a deal. This exchange warranted more back and forth between the two characters to make such an agreement seem realistic.

Outward appearances would tell us we should be wary of Jack and not suspect anything of Paul. “Black Butterfly” posits otherwise, reminding us that there is always something more simmering underneath and people are only broadcasting what they want you to know about themselves.

 

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Once the pair arrive at Paul’s cabin, it soon becomes obvious that Jack isn’t necessarily who he says he is. He’s helpful and handy, cooking and tending to repairs to allow Paul some needed writing time, but he’s also kind of nosy and suspicious, repeatedly asking Paul questions about his life. Bothered by Jack’s awkward forward manner, Paul reluctantly includes his guest into his creative process as the two collaborating on a story for his latest work that turns out to resemble themselves and their recent encounter. However, when suspicions increase and Jack’s behavior becomes erratically violent, Paul (and eventually Laura) is thrust into a confusing and overwhelming mind game with Jack that could threaten his life.

The story by Frydman and Justin Stanley is actually something of a remake of a French TV film “Papillon Noir” from 2008. At one point, Nicolas Cage was on tap for a remake of the material, but that fell to the wayside. Banderas is good here, but he’s prone to hysterics that can be sort of overbearing. It’s hard enough to believe his character would behave in such a manner, but it’s also harder still to get behind the revealing twist his Paul is involved in at the end. Overall,  Goodman does a fine job mounting the reasonable panic that’s in the screenplay in transitioning the material to the big screen.

The problem is the twist, which comes either too early or moves without the tension it calls for. The very end of the film is likely to irritate some viewers. By the time I got there, I didn’t think anything of it.  The movie doesn’t really deliver what the twist indicates, there just wasn’t enough signs or build-up all along to really sell what the twist is suggesting. I really can’t get into any more of it without going into spoiler territory.

“Black Butterfly” works best when its showing audiences the struggles and frustrations of writing and other factors that can contribute to that creative process. The psychological warfare and physical threats that develop between Paul and Jack take some leaps of faith from the audience in order to be convincing, but Banderas and Myers butt heads well – even if their characters are unbelievable. There’s a satisfying thriller here even though the third act doesn’t totally earn what it delivers.

 

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RATING: **

 

 

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