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Swiss Army Man (2016) Review

I’ve been wanting to watch Swiss Army Man for years. Much like Naked, it had been on my watchlist since I’d very first kindled even an inkling of interest in film. No, I don’t know why it was such an early contender for me to watch, but I suppose it was the premise of Paul Dano dragging around a corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe that dragged me into the film at first. Being trapped on a fantastical island, alone, would be quite the terrifying thought, but having the man that played Harry Potter for eight films is an intensely horrific fever dream. 

Cast Away meets the generic pretensions of the A24 stylizations. That’s it, essentially. Trapped on an island and with no way of deserting it, it doesn’t take all that long for Swiss Army Man to squander any potential it has of being an artsy survivalist piece. Maybe it’s something about Radcliffe’s corpse being used a speedboat powered by farts as the opening credits roll, but that was maybe the first sign of Swiss Army Man clambering away from realism and depth as quickly as it could. I was under the impression that this would be similar to that of other A24 projects, ones that fumble the blend of sincere messaging with solid performances. It wasn’t too difficult to make the adaptation from Paul Dano going crazy on a deserted island talking to a rotting Radcliffe to Dano and Radcliffe building a tree fort, but it certainly wasn’t what I had in mind. 

As expected, Dano provides us with a resoundingly good performance. He’s a great actor, and it’s nice to see him flourish under directing pair Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. Unfortunately, they’re only able to muster an engaging performance out of Dano for a short while. Surprisingly, it’s when Radcliffe shows up that the problems begin to arise, a shame since that’s within five minutes of the film starting.  

I don’t have many gripes with Radcliffe considering his films shaped my childhood, not only the Harry Potter compendium but the constant references I would hear from friends who spoke of nothing but how scary The Woman in Black was. I’ll take their word for it, so long as you all take my word that Swiss Army Man is an oversaturated mess that doesn’t bring the best out of Radcliffe. Playing a corpse in most films is as easy as, say, making a cup of tea or lying around doing nothing, especially since it’s the latter that you would do to create such a performance. Radcliffe and Dano are an interesting on-screen pairing, but the horrendously poor script from our directing pair fails to recognise the potential within. 

Instead of some soul-searching survivalist drama, we instead receive a film where, if in doubt about ending a scene, makes a fart joke. I really thought we left fart jokes behind. Not even American Pie went near that territory, not in my recollection of that mediocre, overrated cesspool anyway. Still, it’s the first time I’ve seen a comedy drama have so many farts in it, with its constant ribbing on a corpse releasing gas from its anus somehow being as funny the first time as it is the eighteenth time. It’ll sit well with predictable American audiences, it’s that sort of film. For anyone with a brain between their ears though, it’ll boil down to Dano and Radcliffe doing some frankly unfunny stuff and a twist that feels out of place in movie that feels more and more like a misfire as it goes on. 

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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