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Killer Screenplay: Black Butterfly

Black Butterfly is a Pirandellian thriller where authors and their characters interact, coalescing fiction and the creative process. The suspenseful drama, directed by Brian Goodman, is set on the outskirts of a mountain town where a series of abductions and murders seem to remain unsolved.

Paul Lopez (Antonio Banderas), a reclusive writer, is struggling to start what he hopes will be a career-saving screenplay. After a drifter named Jack (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) saves the novelist from being attacked, he offers him to stay in the extra room at his cabin in the woods. The edgy, demanding wanderer will muscle his way into Pauls work, as identification in the writing composition exceeds expectations, unveiling a dark mystery.

The movie is based on the 2008 French thriller Papillion Noir directed by Christian Faure. Just like in its American remake, the original television drama had a lonely, alcoholic divorced screenwriter (Eric Cantona), inviting a mysterious vagabond (Stéphane Freiss), to stay at his woodland home while a serial killer was preying on young women in the area.

This 2017 remake is gripping and cleverly structured as the revelation (which will not be uncovered to avoid spoilers) is flabbergasting. Unfortunately the conclusive counter-revelation dissolves the magic, plunging the entire plot construction into cliche. Nevertheless, the performance of the entire cast is remarkable: every twist is mind-bending and forces spectators to question the central charade. Both Banderas and Meyers are simultaneously physical and psychological in the way they bring to life their characters. Just as spot on are cast members Piper Perabo, Vincent Riotta and Abel Ferrara (whose filmography brilliantly alternates directing and acting).

The eclectic filmmaker Brian Goodman, who established himself with What Doesn’t Kill You based on his life story and involvement with South Boston’s Irish Mob displays exceptional talent in giving pace to crime stories, crisscrossing from one cliffhanger to the next. The Black Butterfly script, by Marc Frydman and Justin Stanley, is rather ingenious until we arrive to the rabbit-out-of-the-hat finale. However, along the way the screenwriting-duo seems to find inspiration in Ira Levin’s classic play Deathtrap, where the protagonist Sidney is also a writer who is experiencing a creative block, as malfeasance and secrecy weave their way through the story. Also Hitchcock’s Rope seems to influence the philosophical moral of Black Butterfly.

The infernal aspect of the 1948 film starring James Stewart was the reminiscent of the metaphorical hell in Jean-Paul Sartres play Huis Clos (No Exit): the characters are prisoners of an inferno they have created over which they intend to rule, but which becomes the trap to ensnare them. Sartre’s gaze plunges us into an anxious state that comes with the awareness that one can be viewed. This emphasizes how we are pointing fingers in the wrong direction with the quote “Hell is Other People”: we construct a hell for ourselves when we refuse to take responsibility for our own actions, leaving us at the mercy of the opinions of others. In the same manner, the culprit of the horrific murders in Brian Goodman’s thriller will confront the gaze of others in an unforeseen way, as two men engage in cat and mouse where only one will win this fateful game.

The title itself is emblematic: Black Butterfly comes from a tattoo on Jack’s back and epitomizes the entire narrative, since the dark macrolepidoptera is generally considered a symbol of transition, renewal or rebirth. Audiences will witness how there is darkness before the dawn in these characters’ lives, as well as a shift of power.