Home » Serenity review – A Neo-noir Inception-like Mystery that is Utterly Fascinating

Serenity review – A Neo-noir Inception-like Mystery that is Utterly Fascinating

by Ben Rolph

Director Steven Knight makes a very confident stride in taking Hollywood’s conventional narrative ‘rules’ and throwing them into the abyss with Serenity. The film is a neo-noir mystery that delves into a rubix cube-Inception-like narrative that constantly twists and subverts expectations, it is absolutely fascinating.

It is unlike any other film. There are signs throughout that create ideas and expectations in the spectator’s mind, whether it’s through framing or dialogue the film interacts with you. It’s like the Island (where the film is set) is a character that dives into the unknown, whatever expectations you have I suggest think again, it will turn out different and that is to the credit of writer/director Steven Knight in crafting this complex and successful narrative.


The film follows Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey), a fisherman constantly obsessing over an abnormally big tuna. He lives on the fictional island of Plymouth where everyone knows everything. This all changes when ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) arrives on the island with a peculiar request. Frank (Jason Clarke), her new husband, is abusive to her and Dill’s son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh). Karen asks Dill to take Frank out on a boat ride and then to throw him in for the sharks to eat. Meanwhile, a mysterious salesman (Jeremy Strong), keeps attempting to reach Dill across the island.

Chillingly original, Serenity taps into its Neo-noir mystery routes from the very beginning. Knight’s somewhat quirky and intimate style of directing acts as a device to further implant the idea of things being slightly off? But as a viewer you can’t quite crack it, we are allowed glimpses through the curtain periodically and this engages as you have to actively spectate.

Serenity Unit Stills

Matthew McConaughey is intoxicating; he oozes toil, fear and confusion. The very first time we see him he is drenched in sweat, he seemingly reels in his fishing rod for hours on end. His constant heavy drinking seeps into his sweat as he begins to spiral down a path of madness that starts with Anne Hathaway’s Karen. Anne Hathaway’s role is vital, the film would not work without her. Her performance is nuanced and subtle while being steeped in the tradition of the femme fatale. Jason Clarke plays Karen’s husband, an abusive character plumbing the depths with his kind of aggressive masculinity. He is psychotically excellent.

Serenity could perhaps be viewed as one big metaphor for how we deal with loss and chaos. A metaphor of how a trauma can affect a child into making them spiral into a space of emptiness, which in the end has consequences and questions why people do the wrong thing for the right reasons. As mentioned, from the start there are subtle moments that Director Knight implants to create the idea that this world and the people aren’t all real. He plays with conventional character tropes and ideas, the ‘villain’ is beyond evil and women are powerless. This acts as a way to heighten the sense of a familiar world that is just all too flat, however there are glimmers of nuance witnessed specifically in Hathaway’s character.


Serenity was filmed in Mauritius, an outsider’s paradise full of palm trees and glorious beaches. However all we see is one little part of the island, it’s rather run down with only one single bar and a few other locations. To the credit of the filmmakers, they successfully create an island so peculiar it feels like one of its characters.

Serenity is a weirdly intimate film that builds a world so peculiar and enigmatic, it keeps you constantly guessing. Knight’s experiment is a great success with one of the most chilling twists, ever.

4/5 Stars

Ben Rolph




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