Hello Herman: Film Review

Well-meaning but ineffective, this shallow portrait of a teen killer is never less than predictable

Michelle Danner's timely drama concerns a horrific school shooting.

Arriving on screens with an almost too painful timeliness, Hello Herman concerns a Newtown-style school shooting in which a troubled 16-year-old boy goes on a rampage, killing 39 children and three adults in the process. But despite the urgency of the issues it addresses, Michelle Danner’s film, scripted by John Buffalo Mailer (son of novelist Norman), lacks the depth necessary to compensate for its exploitative aspects. Hitting obvious and predictable notes, it lacks the artistry of such similarly themed, far superior efforts as Gus Van Sant’s Elephant.

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The film’s central character is not actually Herman (an effective, baby-faced Garrett Backstrom), but rather Lax Morales (Norman Reedus, of The Walking Dead), a video blogger who has been granted exclusive interview rights to the imprisoned teen. As is eventually revealed during the series of videotaped encounters, Lax has an incident in his past that somehow binds him to the troubled Herman: during an undercover investigation of neo-Nazis, he was induced to brutally beat a black youth with a baseball bat.

This dubious moral equivalency aside, the film, which includes nightmarish if not particularly explicit flashback sequences to the massacre, tries to cover all the bases in its explication of the reasons for Herman’s snapping. He was relentlessly bullied by his peers; humiliated by the girl with whom he seemed to have a connection; endured a troubled upbringing at the hands of his single mother (played by director Danner); was addicted to violent video games; had ready access to a full arsenal; and found instructions for building a lethal pipe bomb on Google. He’s also tormented by an episode from his past involving the accidental death of his younger sister.

The film particularly founders in its heavy-handed attempts at depicting the political and media firestorm surrounding the incident, with televised debates between anti-death penalty advocates and right-wing politicians screaming for the killer’s head. When Herman does indeed receive the death sentence, it’s announced that his televised execution will be the highest rated event in TV history.

Despite Reedus’ skillful underplaying as the journalist who’s told by an associate that “this is going to be your Capote moment,” Hello Herman is never as compelling as it should be. Well-meaning but ineffective, it mainly registers as a missed opportunity.

Opens June 7 (Gravitas Ventures)

Production: All in Films

Cast: Norman Reedus, Garrett Backstrom, Martha Higareda, Rob Estes, Sabrina Debler, Andy McPhee, Olivia Faye

Director: Michelle Danner

Screenwriter: John Buffalo Mailer

Producers: Ed Cha, Norman Reedus, Alexandra Guarnieri, Brian Drillinger

Executive producers: Valerie Debler, Dickran Dedourian, Polo Herman, Jerry Katell, Benjamin Statler, Micha Vincent

Director of photography: Sandra Valde

Editors: Christian Kinnard, Bradford Holt

Production designer: Bernt Amadeus Capra

Composer: Jeff Beal

Not rated, 89 min.