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Hal Hartley directs a monster movie—the monster is not sarcasm

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: As part of our two weeks of Halloween-related content, we offer five days of monster movies.

No Such Thing (2001)

Leave it to Hal Hartley to dream up a movie monster that wants nothing more than to die, and spends almost the entire picture being terrorized itself. Widely regarded as a flop at the time of its release, No Such Thing kicked off a decline in Hartley’s indie cachet that still persists, a dozen years later—he’s made only three features since, the most recent of which (Meanwhile) hasn’t been theatrically released. Lower your expectations a bit, however, and it’s a rather endearing little fairy tale, featuring a terrific performance by Sarah Polley as Beatrice, a young woman who survives a plane crash, major surgery, and the death of her fiancé, only to strike up a bizarre, tender friendship with the creature (Robert John Burke) who killed her fella (along with numerous others). To its chagrin, the Monster is indestructible; after making him promise not to kill anyone, Beatrice agrees to take him from Iceland to New York and help him seek out a mad scientist (Baltasar Kormákur) who may be able to finally put him to rest.

Looking as much like a dissolute rock star as a Beast accompanying a Beauty, Burke, who’d been working with Hartley since The Unbelievable Truth, has a blast with the Monster’s self-pitying monologues and incoherent rages, and his literally world-weary cantankerousness ricochets nicely off of Polley’s Little Orphan Annie ingenuousness. (The end has visually correlated the two in an unmistakable way.) No Such Thing is Hartley riffing, at times somewhat aimlessly; satirical scenes featuring Helen Mirren as Beatrice’s opportunistic employer on a tabloid news program, who wants to exploit the Monster for ratings, mostly fizzle. But the film was Hartley’s first serious effort to integrate straightforward emotional sincerity into his deadpan-hipster worldview, and while the result isn’t wholly successful, it’s still frequently hilarious and occasionally quite moving. If nothing else, he succeeded in creating a monster that had never been seen before, externalizing the ugliest traits of the typical Hartley hero.

Availability: No Such Thing is available on DVD, obtainable through Netflix, and for rental or purchase through Amazon Instant Video.

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