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  • Benjamin May

Incident at Loch Ness (2004) Review

Visionary director Werner Herzog has explored innumerable landscapes throughout his career, from the wilds of Africa to the jungles of South America and the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. His latest project 'Enigma Of Loch Ness' takes him to the Scottish Highlands, where he plans to examine the myth of the Loch Ness Monster. Alongside him, a documentary crew- led by intrepid producer Zak Penn- film the proceedings as 'Enigma' goes into production. Though Herzog steadfastly disbelieves in the legend of Nessie, it seems that under the waters of the Loch something is stirring; something which may doom both productions to the cinematic shallows.

'Incident at Loch Ness' is a funny mockumentary that satirizes the documentary format, as well as the public persona of the great Werner Herzog. Zak Penn's directorial debut, the film humorously portrays the notion of cinéma vérité as a Sisyphean ideal, also showing how the sensationalist machinations of producers and moneymen can hamper the filmmaking process. Though occasionally the jokes feel a tad on the nose and the narrative loses some impetus in the latter half; the comedy comes fast and frequent, and will assuredly have you laughing throughout.

As will the caricature the film offers of Werner Herzog. Playing into and sending up his reputation as a profound, determined, borderline obsessive eccentric, the film's version of the director is not an over-the-top creation; more of a slyly, wryly heightened one (obviously written by someone with great admiration and affection for the man). Herzog's performance as himself is a masterclass in understated comedy. He exaggerates his mannerisms and style of speech subtly, never once verging into the overblown. The antics the film's Herzog engage in are madcap at times, but always played completely straight and in keeping with his established character, and his dialogue is consistently comical. It is a delight to see Herzog play such an amusing version of himself, and you'll surely remember his performance fondly.

Less impressive are the supporting characters, both in terms of writing and performance. While the central figure of Herzog is amusing, the ostensible co-star of 'Incident at Loch Ness' Zak Penn is considerably less so. His caricature as a desperate producer insistent on cliches and sensationalist tactics is a one-note, irritating creation, and Penn's performance as same is mediocre at best. The other characters are underwritten, so that talents like Russell Williams II and Gabriel Beristain are left with relatively little to do.

On the technical side, the film easily impresses. Like the best mockumentaries, such as 'This Is Spinal Tap' or 'Bob Roberts,' 'Incident at Loch Ness' doesn't overdo the technical conventions of documentary features, such as adding unnecessarily shaky cameras or grainy footage in an attempt to give the film a look grounded in realism. Instead, John Bailey's cinematography is reserved, professional and muted; in keeping with the actual style and look of documentaries. Abby Schwarzwalder and Howard E. Smith's editing must also be mentioned, as their consummate work adds to the effectiveness of the film's masquerade as truth.

Though it is not in the same league as 'This Is Spinal Tap,' 'Incident at Loch Ness' is a funny mockumentary centered around a cinematic giant that is easy to watch and enjoy. Featuring a great self-parodying performance from Werner Herzog and an assured visual style, the film has plenty to boast about; though it also has its' detractions. The supporting cast aren't particularly impressive and the narrative and its' characters are unevenly written. However, it's got plenty of moments that'll have you laughing, and for any fan of Herzog, it's a must watch. In short, 'Incident at Loch Ness' is something of a mixed bag; but one with treasures a-plenty for the discerning viewer.


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