Vague Visages’ Failure! review contains minor spoilers. Alex Kahuam’s 2023 movie features Ted Raimi, Merrick McCartha and Noel Douglas Orput. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Presenting a movie as though it was captured in a single take has become something of a cliché. More often than not, it works against the project rather than in its favor. The recent Medusa Deluxe is a notable exception, with its cavalcade of colorful characters imbuing a sharp script with nuance and perfectly matching the filmmaking’s rat-a-tat energy. Alex Kahuam’s Failure!, on the other hand, uses the idea of a single take predominantly to showcase how long someone can hold the camera without dropping it. Shaky cam is an interesting choice for a simple shot involving two characters sitting in a room having a conversation, but it’s sadly a glaring issue throughout. In fact, the sole saving grace in this monumentally irritating film is the wonderful Ted Raimi in the lead role.
Raimi is a genre stalwart, thanks in part to his work with older brother Sam Raimi. If nothing else, Failure! proves, if there were any shadow of a doubt, that he’s a star in his own right (Sean Gunn could never pull this off). Raimi plays James, a ruthless businessman who’s saddled with insurmountable debt and must face the impossible decision of whether to sell his company (while potentially safeguarding his family’s future) or to continue fighting and potentially lose everything. A doting father to his two grown-up daughters, James doesn’t want to let anyone down, including his deceased business titan father whose presence looms large.
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In Failure!, various characters show up to James’s palatial home in an effort to force him to make a decision. He’s also roped into a fitting for his eldest daughter’s wedding that doesn’t exactly go to plan but also feels curiously rushed as presented. Raimi is onscreen for the entire 87-minute duration, and he doesn’t miss a beat (the same can’t be said for at least two other characters who noticeably fumble their lines). The veteran performer even elevates the gratingly lazy script, which essentially involves the characters standing around explaining the plot to each other while inexplicably repeating the protagonist’s name over and over again to resemble something decent. It reeks of a first draft, the phrase “give” rather than “cut” slack somehow slipping through the net.
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James is haunted by a presence in Failure! that mostly cajoles him for being such a wuss. The idea of an imaginary friend guiding the protagonist is so overdone at this point that you’d have to engineer something truly inventive, or boast a seriously impressive performance, to really differentiate it. Failure! has neither. Noel Douglas Orput — dressed like The Dude at a job interview — is stiff and uncomfortable, though the blame can’t wholly be laid at his feet considering the actor is saddled with lines like, “Ex-wives, eh? You gotta love ‘em.” Seemingly to cover for a lackluster script, Vincent Gillioz’s score is almost omnipresent and incredibly off-putting. It adds nothing to the utter lack of atmosphere, almost as though the filmmakers didn’t have faith in their story.
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There are no real stakes in Failure! — no sense of urgency, no connective tissue. Scenes just drag on interminably as James moves aimlessly from room to room, person to person, with poor Raimi pushing as hard as he can to bring some credulity to the proceedings. Everybody approaches the material as though they’re making Succession, which would be funny if it wasn’t so humiliating. Making matters worse, the entire principal cast is comprised of white men. POC characters and a single woman do feature, but their appearances are so fleeting, so inconsequential. Plus, the actors are gifted barely a fraction of the screen-time in comparison, making it feel like box-checking rather than a genuine attempt at progress.
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Likewise, it’s unclear who any of these characters really are or what their relationships are to each other. If the writing was tighter or the performances stronger, Failure! could’ve been a nail-biting exercise in sustained tension, but the filmmakers visibly strain for meaning by the end. Raimi’s performance is impressive, though he’s simply too good for this. With any luck, the likeable actor will get more shots at meaty leading roles in the wake of this movie’s release, as Failure! is a failed experiment that grates more than it excites.
Failure! released in August 2023 via October Road.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.
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