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Hello Herman | Review

Missed Targets: Danner’s Film After-school Special Fodder

Michelle Danner Hello Herman PosterReveling in the fact that it was made before the latest rash of mass shootings, including 2012’s Aurora, Colorado’s theater massacre, Michelle Danner’s ungainly sophomore effort, Hello Herman still fails to have a timely edge or any other quality of merit, for that matter. Rather, this poorly constructed social issue film is fitted for the same destiny as one of its characters as is outlined by the main protagonist in the film, a footnote to a rather lengthy list of unremarkable footnotes. That’s not to diminish the profound tragedy that is the result of such horrific violence, and exploring the how and the why of these incidents is of paramount importance. While Danner avoids exploitative tactics, her film, unfortunately lacks any kind of elegance or finesse, instead bluntly bludgeoning its audience with the obvious, exuding all the grace of high school theatrical production.

Opening with an ancient proverb, “If we hope to heal the pain we must first discover the cause,” we see a young adolescent male, Herman Howards (Garrett Backstrom) stroll into his school one quiet morning and murder forty-two people at gun point. Herman’s wish is to tell his story for popular video blogger, Lax Morales (Norman Reedus), who gets exclusive access to Herman in prison while he awaits sentencing. We learn that Herman chose Lax because the blogger infamously infiltrated a covert KKK gang for an investigate report and had been forced to beat a young black child with a baseball bat to prove his commitment to the gang.

Convinced they share the same deep seated predilection for violence as a problem solving option, Herman attempts to explain why he did what he did, boiling down to broken household dynamics which resulted in a specific familial tragedy, ultra-violent video games, easy access to guns, and, perhaps most importantly, virulent school bullying. In the meantime, the media firestorm surrounding the case successfully goads the court system into a quick trial, while a conservative senator demands Howard’s execution be televised for all to see, to set an example for those that violate the sacred respect for the preciousness of human life.

From its opening proverb onward, John Buffalo Mailer’s painfully self-aware screenplay disservices Danner’s film by neutering it into a corny PSA on gun violence and bullying. We still don’t quite learn what the actual breaking point is for Herman, other than a perfect storm of shitty motives surrounding his unlucky head. There are plenty of teenagers in similar situations as well as many more in even less savory circumstances that don’t shoot their peers, so what is it about middle class, somewhat privileged Howard that really makes him capable of such an evil act? We won’t ever really know, at least not with how Danner’s film lays out the subject. The situation is only watered down by the silly parallels to the lazily conceived Reedus character, who conveniently has a lapsed relationship with a news reporter who works for a hammy Fox news knock off called Chet Chat. “This will be your Capote moment,” she tells Lax, referring to his all pass access to Herman, one of many eye rolling bits of over baked dialogue.

We’ve seen a steady influx of school shooting films from different perspectives, most memorably with fare like Elephant (2003), The Life Before Her Eyes (2007), and Beautiful Boy (2010) to name some recent and worthwhile attempts at exploring the horrific ramifications of these tragedies. But Hello Herman is nowhere near the same caliber and can’t seriously be seen to even engage in the same kind of logical dialogue. Danner’s intentions seem skewed, and the latter half of the film half heartedly tries to make good on its criticism of media involvement, using a lazy tactic that seems a rip-off of a subpar (but still superior to this) 1994 television Sean Young starrer, Witness to the Execution. Danner may have good intentions, but the film’s reluctance to seriously address the viciousness of Herman’s acts only makes this feel like a flaccid attempt at provocation.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.


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