E1 Entertainment // 2011 // 80 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 2nd, 2011
The world's always looking for a savior. Let there be Phillip.
Satire is such a tricky thing to get right. There's little more delicious than a satire which hits its target in a precise, intelligent manner, but it's so easy for things to go terribly wrong. Unfortunately, Yaniv Raz's Son of Morning is one of the most ill-considered satirical endeavors I've seen in a while; a tone-deaf screech of a film which rarely comes close to being legitimately funny or substantial.
The story concerns a young man named Phillip (Joseph Cross, Running With Scissors), who is going through a rough time in his life. First his father commits suicide, then he learns that the sun is about to "turn into a giant vacuum" and consume the entire world within a matter of months. The combined events drive Phillip to a church service, where he eventually starts crying. More specifically, he starts crying tears of blood. This is actually caused by a medical condition (I believe it's filed in the medical journals under "Le Chiffre Syndrome"), but the members of the church believe that it's some kind of miracle and that Phillip must be the son of God. Well, Jesus is technically the son of God, so they figure Phillip must be the grandson of God. Regardless, he's a saint!
Anyway, an ambitious reporter (Heather Graham, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) happened to witness the entire event, and she decides she's going to make Phillip a television star. Soon, the entire world believes that Phillip is their new savior, and that he's preparing to make some sort of sacrifice in order to save the world from being consumed by the sun. Much chaos ensues.
Son of Morning would have you believe that it's making some weighty-yet-entertaining statements about the 24-hour news cycle, the nature of celebrity and the gullible nature of human beings. Yes, there's plenty to make fun of in those categories; 24-hours news in the modern era is often so absurd that it seems like a parody of itself. However, Son of Morning never works because it never even bothers to make anything it does believable. This isn't a portrait of the real world gone mad; it's a portrait of a frenzied parody of the real world turning into an even more frenzied parody. Films like Being There and A Face in the Crowd worked hard to sell the notion that their figures could be so easily turned into pop culture heroes by the public; we never believe for a second that anyone would regard Philip as a savior.
This is smug, irritatingly twee filmmaking, as Son of Morning sits on a perch taking cheap potshots at humanity in a manner which is both pretentious and childish. Yes, people go ridiculously wild over celebrities and then forget about those same celebrities in an alarmingly brief period of time, but simply making that point doesn't amount to much. It amounts to nothing if you spend time patting yourself on the back for doing such a thing. The film's blend of unchecked outrage and cutesiness is just so exasperating. Examine a scene early on in which Phillip's father hangs himself. A tough moment, right? But this film stages it in the most peculiar way: the father makes a raspberry noise, rolls his eyes, makes a Roger Ebert-style "thumbs down" gesture and then jumps off the balcony with a noose around his neck. Meanwhile, a trite bit of cooing indie pop plays and Phillip slowly turns his head to make a, "golly, that was weird!" expression for the camera. The scene dismisses the father's death as ridiculous absurdity, and treats everything else that happens in the film the same way. It's nearly impossible to care about anything in this trainwreck of a film. Even at 80 minutes (68 if you don't count the hilariously lengthy end credits), it feels too long. If Raz had simply written a blog post outlining his frustrations with the modern world, it could have saved a lot of time, money and actors' reputations.
The performances struggle to find the right tone, and nearly everyone seems adrift at sea as a result: Bob Odenkirk, Stephen Root, Heather Graham, Danny Glover, Jon Polito, Stephen Weber and Jamie-Lynn Sigler all seem uncertain of what notes they should be hitting, and Cross simply retreats into vacant emptiness and never allows the character any distinctive personality (which is the point, I suppose). The only actor who really makes a positive impression is Edward Herrmann, whose controlled, empathetic turn as Phillip's hotel aide is the only thing about Son of Morning which actually works. What a fine actor he is. What a shame his talents are wasted on a film like this.
The DVD transfer is solid enough, though the color palette is a bit garish at times. Detail is decent and black levels are impressive enough. Audio is...well, technically, it's good, but it's horrible to actually listen to. The soundtrack distinguishes itself by allowing songs to play over one another much of the time (or sometimes mixing songs and score selections), creating a chaotic, dissonant effect meant to represent the nature of Phillip's overloaded life. It's an idea that seems nifty on paper, but it leads to a film which is nearly impossible to listen to (the clunky, on-the-nose dialogue doesn't help much). Supplements are limited to an uninformative eight-minute interview with Heather Graham and a trailer.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R