I don’t know a heck of a lot about Linkin Park turntablist Joseph Hahn. His feature film debut Mall could provide some insight; although I hope I’m mistaken.
Hahn could’ve been that someone who grew up resenting authority. His teenage peers could’ve been burn outs and pot heads who had no aspirations. Meanwhile, his own observations bloomed into cynical opinions about the culture around him. To him, he might’ve been the smartest guy in the room drowning in a sea of bong water.
Of course, I’m telling tales out of school. But, how else am I supposed to interpret Mall? Hahn set out to make a semi-serious flick about crumbling personalities who use the local shopping centre to project their own weaknesses and maybe relate to others bumming around. Instead, he’s made a holy spill of a film. The only thing that’s focused in Mall is the camera, and even that statement is pushing it.
The character closest to a protagonist is Jeff (played by Cameron Monaghan of TV’s Shameless). Jeff spouts off literature in hopes that his intellect adds to his smart aleck charm, but others see him as an eccentric, mumbly mope with nowhere to go. Those people are right, and it’s an absolute pain listening to Jeff’s hazy self-righteousness. Monaghan, who has shown great potential on Shameless, is lost in Hahn’s flick with an on-screen presence that reeks of disappointment in the project.
Mall intersects with a few other stories including a disorderly trophy wife (Donna played by Gina Gershon) and a perverted creep (Danny played by Vincent D’Onofrio). The film takes place within a 24-hour period, and the main crux barely holding Mall together is a public massacre orchestrated by a strung out, disgruntled ass (Mal played by James Frecheville).
Despite Gershon giving it all that she’s got and D’Onofrio giving the film a performance that a film this trashy doesn’t deserve, these sub-characters and their stories bring hardly anything to the table. Hahn could be making a statement about how these pathetic people share a similar vapid life no matter how different they are. But, when events start occurring and these broken human beings stop acting naturally, that distraught realism is shattered. Hahn is also making a statement about a youthful culture that hasn’t been relevant in a decade, making his film awkwardly dated.
As the film flounders, Jeff indulges in crummy ecstasy and proceeds to fall deep into a bad trip. For the rest of the movie, Jeff slips in and out of a nightmare filled with realities blurring together and wolf-like images materializing. As someone who’s never stumbled into a bad trip, the effects, I guess, nail that disorienting feeling one would get. However, I couldn’t help but sense Hahn wanting to break out of his this feature and into a bunch of mini music videos. As much as he tries to convince the audience he’s well-suited for feature films, we get the feeling he’d feel more comfortable with a shorter duration and less characters.
Mall hits ridiculous notes and baffling climaxes, and then asks us to care about this two-dimensional community. The film’s been adapted by D’Onofrio, Sam Bisbee, and Joe Vinciguerra from Eric Bogosian’s novel, which suggests that either the book is too complicated to film or that the three screenwriters couldn’t find the right words to comprehend the nihilism and ugliness. Mall rather comes off as Mallrats rewritten by high school students who skip class because they hate their parents.