“The Discovery” ought to be the best episode of “Black Mirror” ever made, or a sharp twist on “The Leftovers.” Starring Jason Segel, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons, and Rooney Mara, it’s a movie about what happens to people when the existence of the afterlife has been scientifically proven. How does that revelation change the way we live our lives?
But the movie, which drops on Netflix on Friday, is a dull, nonsensical, sterile mess that left me with a headache and a tinge of annoyance from having wasted my time. A premise with great potential devolves into the gloomy story of a strange cult, a pair of reticent lovers, and the meaning of videos that supposedly show exactly where people go in death. I could lay out the details of the plot, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you where it all ends up. The story becomes increasingly inscrutable, and the characters make no sense. The resolution, as far as I could tell, involves some kind of mother and child reunion, but don’t hold me to it. Anyhow, the end was much smaller and more specific than I’d expected, given the broad subject matter.
Perhaps the film, from director Charlie McDowell (“The One I Love”), will have some interest to those seeking camp awfulness, although the camp isn’t particularly rich. Redford is the doctor who made the afterlife discovery, and he has become a cult leader in the two years since. Segel and Plemons are his sons, and Mara is a stranger whose life becomes entwined with theirs. All the actors come out of the confusion with most of their dignity intact, although Plemons, one of my faves from his work on three of TV’s best shows — “Friday Night Lights,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Fargo” — tries a bit too hard to be the dark, quirky comic relief. Against the giant wave of monotony surrounding him, he doesn’t stand a chance.