Film Review: My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009)

I have a dirty confession to make. I have never seen a Werner Herzog film. Not even Grizzly Man. I confess this lack of cinematic viewing on the basis that I was recently put in a position where my viewing habits were placed as unworldly. Another admission: I am young…apparently. And there are multitudinous films to consume. So when it came time to picking which film I would see at Cinema Nova during my 3-hour break on a Tuesday lunchtime, the new Werner Herzog fit appropriately.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done came to my attention as a vehicle directed and co-written by Herzog, and produced by David Lynch. This, to most film students, is attractive. The premise is beyond simple. Brad McCullum (Michael Shannon) has murdered his mother (Grace Zabriskie) in the home of their neighbours (Irma P. Hall and Loretta Devine). Federal detectives Hank Havenhurst (Willem Dafoe) and Vargas (Michael Peña) are sent to the crime scene where Brad has absconded to his home with two hostages. His fiancée Ingrid (Chloë Sevigny) soon arrives, followed by his friend Lee (Udo Kier). Brad had recently came back from Peru where he seemed to gained insight into his own mystical powers.

The film traces back Brad’s time in Peru, his relationship with Ingrid and his mother and a visit he makes with Lee to collect a sword (the murder weapon) from his emu farmer uncle (Brad Dourif). What starts out as intriguing and interesting gets lost in a well of very little happenings. The characters are moving around and speaking, and yet nothing seems to propelling the storyline with the true zest it deserves.

The talented group of actors do what they can with the limited material. The standout is Zabriskie who displays true dementedness in a scene where she keeps appearing in Brad’s room, uninvited with snacks and drinks, as Ingrid attempts to make the bed, thwarting off Brad and his captured recordings of God. The looks on her face place her in a familiar Lynchian setting. It does feel like we are once again watching the psychic Sarah Palmer and her strange episodes.

I really wanted to like this film, but it lost and bored me. I hate to say that, but it felt like it wasted its screen time. Supposedly based on a true story, the elements surrounding my boredom are clear. The film was not concerned with the actual slaying, but rather the mysterious events leading up to that. This would have worked fine if the events actually seemed mysterious and deranged. Instead it felt like a bad television movie.

Perhaps I am being too harsh. Perhaps I was in a bad mood. Perhaps I just did not get it. But regardless, this film was a letdown.

Written by James Madden.


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