While Michelle Danner's Hello Herman may not necessarily cover any new territory in its examination of violence, fame, and one young man named Herman, but what the film does leaves a terrific and horrific impact that will have you lost amongst your senses for quite some time after watching it.
Written by John Buffalo Mailer, Hello Herman is precisely the film that director Michelle Danner envisioned when she and I chatted a few months ago.
It's controversial. It's bold. It's challenging. It's thought-provoking.
Hello Herman isn't most likely a film you really want to watch but it's a film you should watch, because it says something about you and I and the world that we live in. Herman (Garrett Backstrom) is in many ways your typical 16-year-old nerd. He's an awkward and shy young man who is good at computers and enjoys playing games.
He's also, as you might expect, a victim of bullying. In fact, his bullying is so relentless that Herman transforms from that awkward and shy young man into a young man whose mind becomes open to the unfathomable and, yes, 39+ fatalities later he has become one of America's most notorious school shooters. In the midst of his spree, he sends a tape of video to a broadcaster/blogger he particularly admires, Lax Morales (Norman Reedus), and announces that he wants to tell his story on Lax's show.
That's the crux of Hello Herman, though it goes much further and Danner intentionally takes it multiple different directions.
Bullying. School shootings. Violence in America. Fame. The media.
That's really what Hello Herman is about when it comes down to it. Hello Herman is about the cycle of violence and why it seems no one is doing anything about it.
We say we are, but we're really not.
The beauty of Hello Herman is that even while it's tossing every possible answer at the wall, it's making you completely aware that it's not going to be one single answer that sticks. Is it possible that some people are just plain born evil? Of course. It's even more likely, however, that when evil happens it happens because evil was planted and watered and fertilized and encouraged to grow and grow and grow.
Eventually, it grows out of control and there may or may not be any possible way to stop it once it reaches that point.
The thing is that Hello Herman is also a call to action. It's a call to look at ourselves, our families, our schools, our workplaces, and our communities and doing everything that is within our power to do.
Maybe even more.
Hello Herman benefits greatly from the calm and disciplined presence of Norman Reedus as Lax, a man with his own skeletons of sorts and his own agendas. Reedus's Lax is a flawed man, yet he's also a man who serves simultaneously as problem and solution. He understands, at least in some way, and he also possesses that shred of humanity and hope.
As played by Backstrom, Herman is histrionic yet heartfelt and never less than heartbreaking even when you realize the evil that he has done.
Hello Herman is part Elephant, part We Need to Talk About Kevin, and part Heart of America.
Hello Herman is as disjointed as this review, perhaps, but it needs to be that way to make you see the sadistic shards of life that comprise an evil mind.
It may make you uncomfortable. It should make you uncomfortable.
It should make you angry. It should make you hurt. It should make you think and feel and reflect and grab your child and hug them with reckless abandon.
Hello Herman doesn't necessarily always work. There are times that it seems to go off in too many directions and there are times this approach feels more like a gimmick than a natural development from the story. Additionally, some of the supporting performances are a touch melodramatic given the overall natural feel of the film.
But, when it comes down to it that's okay because, once again, this is the kind of film where you expect more questions than answers and that's exactly what Mailer and Danner give us.
The original score from Jeff Beal serves as a nice companion for the film, while Sandra Valde-Hansen's lensing does a terrific job of capturing both the intimacy and the universality of the story.
Hello Herman has been picked up by indie distributor Freestyle Releasing for an arthouse and VOD run through theaters. If you get a chance, check it out. You may not want to, but you should.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic