Michael (2017)

Michael is an immature playboy, who – like his friends in his “players’ club” – tries to sleep with as many women as possible. But recently he has had serious performance issues, and a bit of digging reveals that there might be a supernatural reason. Michael is not only losing his reflection and his impetus to breathe, he is also missing pulse and blood pressure – hence his erectile dysfunction. And since this is something he cannot possible live with, a plan of action is needed to save him before his transition is final. So a small group of brave souls is preparing to face evil and battle for Michael’s manhood…

 

To answer the obvious question right away: yes, the film is as bad as it sounds. And in more than one way. Michael is being described as an “independent” production, but “amateur” production would be far more accurate. This film is an unmitigated disaster. There are numerous things wrong with this film, but it might be difficult to pinpoint the crucial element that pushes this ultra-low-budget production over the cliff.

 

The premise is stupid, and it is no wonder that it could not really support a feature-length film. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Michael has to rest on this premise as it has only the thinnest of plots which offers no solid foundation for the film either.

 

The other really bad thing is the fact that a large portion of the dialogue consists of jokes, puns, and one-liners. And not just any kind of joke, no: the German language’s worst and most stale samples of sexual innuendo, misogynist jokes, and immature word-play have been assembled in this script. And while this is meant to be ironic, the amateur cast’s lack of experience in delivering lines means that any hope of hitting the right tone is going right out the window pretty much from the start.

But the problem does not only lie in the delivery and in the quality of the material, but also in the way in which the screenplay has been written. These lame jokes are lined up one after another, without transition, and are presented as verbal exchanges between characters as if these were naturally occurring conversations:

"My watch tells me that you are not wearing any underwear."
"What? That's not true, I am wearing underwear." 
"Ah, right, my watch is one hour fast."

One such joke might work in the right film, under the right circumstances. Getting two hundred of them to work is scientifically impossible. Still, writer/director José Hidalgo tried. And tried, and tried, and tried again. Relentlessly he is assaulting us with jokes of this kind, from the very start of the film to the very end.

 

 

Here, we need to take a break and look back at Hidalgo’s short film Fang. This short film features the same protagonist (Michael) and can be seen as a prequel to the feature film; and like the feature film, Fang also features dialogue full of bad puns and innuendo. In Fang, we have obnoxious men, caricatures rather than characters, who treat women like garbage and in the end get their “comeuppance”.

Whether Fang is your cup of tea or not, one has to say that it works reasonably well within the limits of the short film medium. And so Hidalgo seemingly figured he would try to extend the universe of the short into a feature length film. There are several elements, however, that do not translate from a short to a feature-length film. For one thing, you need characters for a feature film, not caricatures. More importantly, while you can fill a comedic short film with dialogue that consists mostly of puns and innuendo, this simply does not work at feature length. Finally, the male characters in the short are plot devices; and, in a way, they are characters we are rooting against. In the feature film, Michael is the protagonist and he is someone we are supposed to care about. This is asking a lot from the audience given that he is so obnoxious (even though Hidalgo seemingly tried to make him more comical in the feature film than in the short in order to “soften” his obnoxiousness).

 

The fact that we are supposed to pick Michael’s side in this feature film (while not really liking him) is a problem. As is the fact that there are no really conflicted characters here. Because deep down there is a basic, valid idea buried several miles beneath this premise: the confrontation between a male vampire hunter and a female vampire nearly always has undertones of patriarchy fearing and/or suppressing a powerful female force. Michael’s erectile dysfunction is a not-so-subtle symbol for this; as are the many flawed male characters in this film, most of whom are both sex-obsessed and weak.

Which means that, in a parallel dimension, someone might possibly have made a poignant film about that topic. But unfortunately, Michael is very much not that film.

 

Let’s take a look at the acting: all the actors seem to be amateurs, and some of the actors playing marginal roles do give atrociously bad line-deliveries. The main actors and most of the main supporting actors, however, do give decent performances and know how to deliver lines (even though it is still noticeable that they are amateurs). It seems to me that – like in other amateur productions, such as Dance with a Vampire – there was a deliberate effort in Michael to cast the most able people in the roles with the most screen-time and place the less talented people in roles with fewer lines.

Since Michael is based on bad jokes and puns, there are scenes in which dead-panning and “straight-man” acting is called for. The dead-panning is mostly shouldered by José Hidalgo himself and he does a pretty decent job at that.

 

This ultra-low-budget film also features a number of locations as well as different sets – seemingly, a lot of work and effort went into this film. There are good costumes and some practical and special effects work, as well as one or two attempts to create interesting camera angles; and there is a burlesque scene which must also have required some effort to organise.

Despite the apparent effort that went into it, this film is – for me – of worse quality than similar ultra-low-budget films such as Dance with a Vampire and Night of the Vampire Hunter. I can therefore give it a rating of only 1.5 out of 10, and I give this more for the effort itself than for the result I can see on the screen.

 

PS: Michael has been put to the public as a crowd-funded, self-published DVD. The feature film has English as well as Spanish subtitle options.

 

 

PPS: I thought that maybe I should ad a few lines about the full German title of the film: Michael – (K)ein Harter Vampirfilm. The add-on title or tagline translates roughly as “[not] a hard vampire film”. This double entendre should be fairly obvious in both languages. On the one hand it refers to Michael’s erectile dysfunction; on the other hand it raises the question whether this comedy is a hard-core horror film or not.

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