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'Berserk' (2019) Review: Mushrooms and A Bad Story in Hollywood

By: Larissa Couto

Under the L. A. sky, stars shine for very few—only for those whose life plays between immortality and oblivion. Berserk is about an actor who needs to experience mortality to finish a screenplay he’s writing. With concepts like animality and mortality, some ideas about how an actor never dies, and some plot-twists (yes, plural), the film aims for dark comedy and lands in a shallow pool of unlikable characters and metalanguage that is far from clever.

While trying to finish his screenplay, Evan (Rhys Wakefield) knows that he first needs to live what he’s trying to write; this “write what you know” and method-like approach is far from being inventive. For this journey, Raffy (Nick Cannon), a more successful actor than Evan, takes the role of a modern shaman—giving Evan mushrooms to allow him to release his creative potential. As the title announces, Evan is our berserker, one of the Scandinavian warriors who went to battle only after consuming hallucinogens. Evan repeats the metaphor of the big star that fades sooner rather than later (the 27 club), as if in a trance. He believes himself a star and a hero who is willing to give up everything for glory. Berserk could be a tale about narcissism if it weren’t for its many mistakes.

Watching Berserk is like watching a B version of La La Land. A movie about the dream of becoming stars in a tone that tries to balance reality and hardships with a tad of surrealism that keeps the dream alive. But if La La Land plays safe, Berserk brings the mushrooms and tries to make it work.

As a dark comedy, the movie never reaches the comedy portion of the premise. The unlikable characters never get us on their sides, or at least to agree to look at the world through their eyes. They repeat some impactful-sounding phrase occasionally and go back to more drugs. That’s it. The tentative cinematic metalanguage is too superficial to be interesting: the characters discuss something about the screenplay and then it is seen happening in the movie. This is so straightforward that it serves as an illustration instead of a comment. And if the screenwriting weren’t already compromised with a lack of writing (much like Evan’s film), the unnecessary plot twists are thrown in needlessly. One plot twist is already difficult to deal with in a movie—the pledge and trust parts of this classic screenplay trick need to be well polished to lead to a third part, or prestige. This is never the case in Berserk. The who’s who and their motivations are not there.

The film tries to deliver an experience to the audience but doesn’t allow enough time to affect the viewer. They’re all under the influence of mushrooms, and the audience should be aware of that from the very beginning (since Evan keeps repeating this and trying to input some blurred reality into the story). The problem is that Rhys Wakefield, who also writes and directs the film, effects the intoxication with words instead of camerawork. We do see some use of colors that suggest a psychedelic aura (and, to be fair, it works when the camerawork shows us the house where they are) however, this use is not long enough to produce the expected effect during the scenes. Another strategy used to question the reality of the events in the film is the fact that it’s set during Halloween. However, like other things in Berserk, that ends up not being something important for the story. It serves as a bad trust part of the trick—it disappears and never comes back.

Grade: D

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