Blu-ray Review: Serenity (2018)

STUDIO: Universal | DIRECTOR: Steven Knight | CAST: Matthew McConaghey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Diane Lane
RELEASE DATE: April 30, 2019 | PRICE: DVD $19.99, Blu-ray/DVD Combo $22.99
SPECS: R | 107 min. | Thriller | 2.39:1 widescreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  |Audio | Video  | Overall

A film to be admired for its outrageous chutzpah rather than its technical or artistic achievements, Serenity is a truly one-of-a-kind affair—but what kind, exactly?

Written and directed by Steven Knight (Locke, screenwriter for Eastern Promises) the film starts out as a water-logged variation on the noir classic Double Indemnity and ends up as a psychological mindblower that plays something like The Truman Show on acid.

Set on the quaint, tight-knit waterfront community called Plymouth Island off the coast of Florida, the film showcases Matthew McConaughey (Gold) as Baker Dill, a fishing boat owner with a Captain Ahab-like obsession of catching a big tuna that has eluded him for years. When Dill and his first mate (Djimon Hounsou, Captain Marvel) aren’t eking out a living by taking drunken tourists out to sea, Dill seems to spend his time getting intimate with his girlfriend (Diane Lane, Trumbo) whose pussycat keeps disappearing (?).

Enter Karen (a blonde Anne Hathaway, Colossal), an ex-flame who has a son with Dill named Patrick (Rafael Sayegh) and an abusive, rich husband (Jason Clarke, Winchester) she wants Dill to kill on his boat. For his worries, Karen is offering Dill a much-needed payment of $10 million. In the meantime, a milquetoast businessman (Jeremy Strong, The Big Short) wanders around the town in search of Dill in the hopes of imparting some important information, but keeps missing him.

What appears initially to be a fairly straightforward spin on the classic film noir formula—Body Heat on the ocean–turns out to be a setup for a completely different film that unspools in Serenity’s last half hour. Without spoiling the outlandish change-of-direction, we can say the twist not only changes the trajectory of the film, but makes one question everything—and we do mean everything—that happened in the first part of the film, as well. Whether this shift make any sense within the context of the film that has been presented is debatable at best.

The switcheroo certainly didn’t endear Serenity to critics or audiences, as the film scored a miserable 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 31% audience rating and a lethargic $8.5 million box-office take. Trouble comes early in the film with awkward sex scenes involving McConaughey and Lane—she pays him for his services!– and a few goofy bare nude scenes boasting the Oscar-winning actor’s chiseled backside. Unintentional laughs abound.

In addition to these issues, McConaughey and Hathaway went public criticizing its theatrical distributor who took after over distribution chores after a series of mishaps including the folding of Serenity’s initial distributor. The new company pulled back on planned marketing and advertising funds after a disastrous $4.4 million opening weekend.  Never a good thing.

On a positive note, Serenity is a surefire candidate to do a lot better than its theatrical returns in the ancillary universe. The curiosity factor is certainly high. And there’s always a drinking game you can play: Take a shot every time you see McConaughey’s rear. Be prepared, though: You may be drunk a half-hour into the film. Have the Uber app ready.

Buy or Rent Serenity (2019)

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.