Imagine if someone told you there was a film in Venice competition that could be described as ‘like Twin Peaks but starring Jeff Goldblum’. Now, imagine the disappointment when that sentence is followed up by ‘but, it’s bad’. That is the experience of The Mountain, an initially intriguing but ultimately frustrating and, at points, unbearable effort from Rick Alverson.
That The Mountain is weird should come as no surprise to anyone who’s read the cast list – alongside Goldblum it features Udo Kier and Holy Motors’s Denis Lavant – but whilst this leads to some interesting moments, all the strangeness for strangeness’s sake becomes tiresome. Alverson does conjure unsettling imagery as lobotomist Wally (Goldblum) and his assistant Andy (Tye Sheridan) perform experiments in mental institutions, and plenty of his shots are genuinely painterly.
But these visuals only take you so far in a story that gives you no reason to care about anyone involved, least of all its lead duo. It’s a less goofy role than Goldblum has had in a while, and he’s impressively unnerving, but Sheridan is too reserved to really register, and both characters are moral blank slates with little discernible motivation.
Where The Mountain will really win or lose you, though, is in the performance from Lavant. He’s never been an actor to go small, but his role here as a faux-philosopher seeking a lobotomy for his daughter is insufferable. His monologues are filled with non-sequiturs that exist solely in the service of getting Lavant to suddenly shout about seeing the future or the gods’ relationship with genitalia.
Inviting comparisons to Twin Peaks and films like Under the Skin is a bold move for any surrealist film, but to do so when your own premise is so thin is simply a way to get dismissed for something better.
CAST: Jeff Goldblum, Tye Sheridan, Hannah Gross, Udo Kier, Denis Lavant
DIRECTOR: Rick Alverson
WRITERS: Rick Alverson, Dustin Guy Defa, Colm O’Leary
SYNOPSIS: The story of a young man who, after losing his mother, goes to work with a doctor specializing in lobotomies and therapies.