This was really one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen. The film was a bit of sensation when it played Sundance-lots of walkouts (a good sign). It’s about a guy called Hank, played by Paul Dano, who is about to kill himself. He’s stranded on an island and spots a body (played by Daniel Radcliffe), which he isn’t sure whether it is dead or alive. As it turns out, it is dead, but through the course of the film it becomes more alive. The body has a flatulence problem, so much Dano can use the body to zoom around in the sea as if it was a jet-ski. The title comes from his ability to use the body as many different tools.
Dano and ‘Manny’ (Radcliffe) start trying to find their way home. They start making their own strange little universe out of the garbage they find. Hank had a photo of a woman called Sarah on his phone, which is at 6% power, and Radcliffe’s dead body has an erection throughout due to seeing the photo. It’s never clear whether Sarah is Dano‘s ex-girlfriend or wife, but he begins to dress up like her using found objects.
As the film begins, you’re not sure whether these bizarre plot elements are real or all in Dano’s mind. It’s beautifully filmed, with very little CGI used to achieve outrageous scenes like the opening. The construction scenes are reminiscent of Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep and Mood Indigo, as they also deal with surreal set-pieces based on crafted surroundings. The pair create their own movies and their own reality as they try to find a way out. There’s also a weird gay subtext.
In this day and age of films with no vision, Swiss Army Man is something to admire greatly. Paul Dano has always been an excellent actor, and he is starting to pick some interesting film roles. He’s absolutely fantastic, as is Radcliffe. The female character is played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who is also really good. There’s also a cameo from Shane Carruth, one of the most fascinating directors on the planet and responsible for equally uncategorizable films like Primer and Upstream Colour. The vibe is similar to The Lobster. It’s definitely one of those like it/hate it movies.
For directors Daniel Sheinert and Dan Kwan, this was a first feature, although they had done some TV and short films. It was shot by Larkin Seiple, a great independent cinematographer, who also did Cop Car. It’s one of the most impressive “actual” independent films in recent years.
The disc is absolutely loaded with extras: there’s a commentary with the directors, production design, and sound mixer/fartist; a basic making-of featurette focusing on the special effects and the ‘Manny’’ dummies, a Q&A with the directors and the sound designer, and more.