‘Existence’ falls short of expectations

Ben Raymond

In my short tenure as a critic for “Best Film on Campus,” I’ve made an effort to feature student films that demonstrate some risk or, more accurately, some intrepidness of creativity on behalf of the young filmmaker.

My selection this week, “Existence” by Pete Herron from Temple University, is not an exception to this rule, but unlike my previous two picks, which were close to flawless examples of amateur filmmaking, “Existence” falls short of the too-lofty target it sets for itself.

Despite being a visually magnetic and thematically daring piece, “Existence” is much like the Icarus of the student film world – a seemingly courageous flight that proves foolish, crashing and burning under the dead weight of its own pseudo-intellectualist wings.

It’s customary and courteous to begin reviews with positive criticism.

I’ve never been courteous, but I am a man of principle.

So, positivity shall follow.

“Existence” is extremely attractive. Herron does well to shoot with grainy, high-contrast photography.

Also, the final images – especially that of the girl suspended in mid-air – are as imaginative as they are striking.

The attempt at philosophically rich filmmaking is, in and of itself, commendable.

“Existence” delves (or tries to) into the bowels of existentialist thought, cogitating on the origin and constitution of people, matter, perception, etc.

I can count with one finger the number of student films I’ve seen dealing with such a developed topic.

However, the result is less than great.

Instead of providing new or even reanimated theories, “Existence” merely regurgitates only the most obvious questions surrounding existentialism.

It sounds more like a couple of coffeehouse junkies blasting their half-conscious cerebral impulses than mature young people elucidating a mature philosophical dialogue.

The film’s narration bounces between borrowed sound bites from experts (these are intriguing) and sound bites from Herron and his friends (these are not).

“Playing the guitar is like … it’s like … interacting with your environment.”

Wow. That’s amazing. Thanks, Kierkegaard.

In short, “Existence” is too big for its own britches. Even the moderately learned will recognize it as 20-something meditations masquerading as the consummation of universal truth.

It tries way, way too hard to be something it will never be.

Different? Yes.

A complete success? No.

Word to the collegiate-filmmaker wise: make films about stuff you understand. Like sex, booze and cheating on math tests.

In fairness, Herron’s film demonstrates brilliant artistry.

But I would very much like to see him attempt something more suitable for his talents – which I am confident are many.