Weirdest movie at Sundance stars Daniel Radcliffe as an inquisitive, flatulent corpse

Harry Potter seems a world away as Radcliffe plays a dead body washed up on a desert island, with special qualities that are useful to the man stranded there

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 January, 2016, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

There’s always some stiff competition for weirdest movie of Sundance, and 2016 has some solid contenders. It could have been The Lobster, a satire that takes place in a universe where singletons who fail to couple up are hunted down, tranquillised, then turned into an animal of their choosing. (Hey, at least they get to pick!)

But that has nothing on Swiss Army Man. The dark, surreal comedy stars Paul Dano as Hank, a man stranded on a desert island, who discovers a corpse washed up on the beach. The body is played by Daniel Radcliffe, and if his mostly nude performance in the play Equus didn’t distance the actor from his decade-plus stretch playing Harry Potter, this certainly will.

Hank quickly learns that this isn’t your typical dead body. It has special powers, one of which is gas so powerful that it can transport the marooned man back to civilisation. That’s right, Hank rides the dead body like a jet ski using the corpse’s gas like an engine.

Eventually, the body comes partially back to life. He can’t move really, but he can speak and his name is Manny. He remembers nothing of his past or human existence in general, leaving Hank to explain what life is all about. It’s all very Michel Gondry-esque (think Be Kind Rewind and The Science of Sleep) as Hank uses shadow puppets and rudimentary dolls made of sticks and leaves to explain everything from commuting by bus to sadness, the glory of Jurassic Park and sex.

This educational period supplies plenty of laughs as Manny grapples with the bizarre truths of humanity and social constructs. Why on earth would people hide their farts from one another, the corpse wonders. Why are humans so afraid of appearing weird? And who would want to live in such a world?

All the while, Hank continues to explore Manny’s many talents. He can be used as a gun because he can shoot objects out of his mouth; he can chop a log in half with his spring-powered limbs; his body collects water, so Hank can use him as a well (and watching Hank drink water that was stored inside a corpse isn’t for the squeamish); and, when Manny gets … well … excited, he can point Hank back to civilisation with a phallic compass.

SEE ALSO: Film review: Daniel Radcliffe’s performance overshadows the story of What If

The feature debut from writer-director duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert only gets more unpredictable, as Manny and Hank’s relationship deepens. Giving away much more would be too spoilery, but let’s just say that the movie marks a funny accomplishment for Radcliffe, who has now locked lips on screen with both Dano and his real-life girlfriend, Zoe Kazan. Radcliffe and Kazan played love interests in another festival-circuit movie, the romantic comedy What If. That’s an odd factoid, but hardly the weirdest footnote in the story of Swiss Army Man. Sometimes fiction really is stranger.

The Washington Post