I was extremely fortunate to attend the Toronto premiere of Neil Breen’s latest film masterpiece Pass Thru (2016) this week…. and boy, what an incredible night it was! The screening itself was surprisingly packed, with angry late-comers being turned away from the sold-out theatre. Before the film even started, there was an excited energy resonating throughout the venue, and it was fun to overhear some of my fellow Breeniacs’ eager anticipation and speculation. Then the staff at The Royal Cinema played a clever little trick on the audience, blasting audio from this video through the house speakers. For a brief moment – when I heard Breen’s voice introducing the film – I expected the curtains to part and for the man himself to be standing there. I was a little disappointed that he wasn’t actually there; that I was just hearing audio from a YouTube clip. Looking back though, it was a great way to set the mood for the show because it’s so much fun listening to the filmmaker drone on about his method.
I suspect green screen may have been involved.
Another great foresight from the staff at the Royal was to introduce the film with a friendly request: we were encouraged as an audience not to shout, scream, and point at the screen too much, no matter how badly we wanted to. For everyone there, this was our first time seeing this film. As much as we all enjoy riffing and shouting funny retorts at the screen, we were rightfully advised against it. If too many people in a sold-out theatre were trying to be funnier than the movie, we’d have missed a huge portion of Neil Breen’s genius. Of course, people still called out here and there, but it was much more calculated and refined. I think everyone in the theatre benefited from that wise warning. I know I appreciated it.
Great, now hurry it up! I need my Breen fix!
So finally, at long last, the lights went down and the movie began. I know a lot of people haven’t seen it yet, so I won’t give too much away, but here’s what I can make of the plot. In Pass Thru, Neil Breen plays a homeless man wandering around in the Nevada desert; a man who hates capitalism and despises all the corrupt politicians, stockbrokers, and bankers of the world. He’s on a mission to stop them…. wait. Does this sound familiar to you?
Oh right. It’s the plot of every other Neil Breen movie ever.
The mission may be the same, but the method has changed. This time, Neil Breen plays an Artificial Intelligence robot (?) named after a yogurt container, who is sent from the future to cleanse the earth of all corruption and greed. A Christ-like figure, he lives in his trailer on a shit-stained mattress in the middle of nowhere, biding his time before his revolution can begin. The story reminds me of the Left Behind book series / movie(s) (don’t worry, they’re on my list to review too). His judgement day is coming, when he will punish everyone for the wrong-doings of our species. Until that day, he mostly just hangs out with these two refugees who’ve crossed the border illegally, sheltering them in his revolting trailer. He passes his message along to them as they get to know each other.
Somehow lifting cans into his hand is a major part of his plan.
Breen’s character Thgil (pronounced ‘Til’, the h and the g are silent) can also travel between dimensions, to some alternate stretch of desert where there’s a rock with some paint on it, a green-screen tiger, and red dot occasionally superimposed over the frame. In his behind-the-scenes video explaining the film, Breen claims these images are all symbols and metaphors, but fails to explain what those metaphors mean. I guess it’s up to the audience to decide. Great art is subjective, after all.
Paintings and tigers, and red dots, oh my!
Structurally, Pass Thru is more abstract than Breen’s prior filmmaking endeavor Fateful Findings. The (attempts at) tone, artistic edge, and visual metaphor are more reminiscent of his work in Double Down and I am Here…. Now. In other words, this is a much slower paced, less linear story than what most people expect when they go to the movies these days. To fill out the running time on this production, Breen rented a drone to ensure he has plenty of gratuitous aerial footage. My favourite is the spinning.
Ironically, in contrast to the slow paced story, Pass Thru’s editing is quick and jarring, throwing continuity to wind as characters jump from one location to another between takes, all while carrying a seamless conversation despite the spacial displacement. There’s actually a scene in this film where a rock is thrown at Breen’s head, and it looks pretty damn real to me. Say what you want about his acting but in the shot that followed, while he struggles to stand up, I was really convinced he had some skull damage. If he did get hit that hard, and it wasn’t just a prop rock, that might explain some of the jarring editing choices.
There are plenty of one-liners that will stand out in this latest installment of the Breeniverse, my particular favorites being the repeated use of the question ‘isn’t that corrupt?!’, Neil’s odd delivery of ‘I’m fine,’ and a character choosing to say ‘I’m your mothers’ sister!’ instead of, ‘I’m your aunt.’ Like in Fateful Findings, we’re treated to performances from some goofy child actors, who, to their credit, are doing their best. Together with their wacky, dying, wheelchair-bound elderly sidekick, the children are following a radio signal into the desert in order to investigate…. something. You’ll have to see the movie to find out what that is. Then if you can understand it, maybe you can explain it to me?
“Okay, but that will take longer than the movie itself.”
Finally, for Neil Breen fans out there, Pass Thru is obviously a film worth seeing. I think he’s become my favorite b-movie filmmaker. While I will always keep a special place in my heart for The Room and Tommy Wiseau, I’ve found myself growing more and more disappointed with him lately. Tommy’s more about business than art. He’s living off the proceeds of a film he made over twelve years ago, without having created anything new since (The Neighbors is unwatchable garbage, it doesn’t count) . Breen perseveres on the other hand, he fights for his art and I respect that a lot more. Thanks to Breen’s efforts, we’re going to keep getting new material from him all the time. There’s nothing like going to the movies for a shared experience like the one I had at the screening this week. Let me put it this way: as the film faded out and the credits started to roll, the collective cheer from the audience speaks for itself. Then when the cheer was immediately followed by everyone chanting Breen’s name, it was pretty obvious they were all eager for more. I know I am. Bring it on, Mr. Breen.