Written & Directed by Kerry Mondragon
There are plenty of clichés that pop into my head when trying to make my point about Tyger Tyger. For instance, famous inventors like Thomas Edison are known for their incredible, world-changing inventions, but the truth behind the man is that there are so many more failed experiments and ideas than there are successes, but those failures ultimately don’t matter because he just needed to find those few true inspirations to make a difference and deliver literal magic into the world. Kerry Mondragon is not a filmmaker familiar to me, but perhaps one day he will be. His latest film, Tyger Tyger, is an example of one of those failed experiments. It doesn’t work, at least for me, nearly at all. But that doesn’t also mean that there aren’t ideas and styles therein which aren’t promising, evoking a certain unique vision and syntax that might lead to a more fully realized and polished finished product at some point in his career. The question is, will Tyger Tyger be a failed invention, and will Mondragon find the direction and inspiration to deliver his own telephone at some point in his career?
To write a plot synopsis for this film would be the accomplishment of great scholars, far above the analytical and perceptive senses of my own abilities. But let’s try anyway. Blake (Sam Quartin) and her partner rob a pharmacy, including a hapless customer named Luke Hart (Dylan Sprouse) who is trying, and failing, to get his prescription filled. Taking pity on the junkie, Blake first kidnaps Luke, and then joins forces with him along with mute friend Bobby (Nekhebet Kum Juch), fleeing to the outskirts of civilization to a community of psychedelics and hippies where they lay low, trying to avoid not only the inevitable, but also Joe (Craig Stark), the middleman who is looking for the drugs Blake supposedly stole for him from the pharmacy.
If it sounds convoluted and weird and strange and discombobulating and nonsensical, that’s probably because that’s what this film largely is. While watching, I couldn’t help but think of another earlier 2021 film that felt underdeveloped and narratively confusing due to too little detail about this reality being provided by the filmmaker: The Wanting Mare. The Wanting Mare is a sprawling sci-fi mood experiment which deals with time and survival in very abstract, but interesting ways. The promise of The Wanting Mare is that there is definite vision and style at play which has be excited about the future work of filmmaker Nicholas Ashe Bateman. With Tyger Tyger, is just feels far too slight and disjointed a narrative, with a sheen of style and vibe but no real depth to hang my hat on to think Mondragon might have promise beyond this failed experiment. I couldn’t even lock into any performances, as they were nearly universally amateur. Quartin and Sprouse show flashes throughout, Quartin in particular has a very curious and sympathetic gaze. But none of it is enough.
And the film is definitely all vibes. A character even, quite obviously, states “It’s all kind of a vibe.” This is a very risky approach because if the viewer isn’t in sync with this vibe (as I wasn’t), it makes for a very long, unfulfilling journey for the audience. I am sure there are those out there that will sync up with the vibe and style this film is putting out into the world, but I suspect that will be a small, niche group of people who will migrate to this film and celebrate its uniqueness. And honestly good for them, I cannot judge or disparage anyone for liking just about any piece of pop culture. But Mondragon clearly has an ambition, and I’m much more interested in failed experiments when they have ambition behind them than a project that plays it safe and conventional. Whether my interests and tastes align with Mondragon’s ambitions, I am skeptical. But I suppose if he tries producing another film, I may give him a tepid second chance to see if his new ideas stick to the wall, even after the all the ideas put forth in this project all seemed to fail to stick.