Review: Swiss Army Man

A stranded man receives assistance from a very skillful corpse in Swiss Army Man. Hank (Paul Dano) is a man marooned on an island, who has just about lost hope. Just as he is about to hang himself, Hank notices a corpse of man named Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) lying on the beach. Hank soon comes to realizes that not only can Manny talk, but he has a number of unique skills that can help Hank find his way to safety.

The feature film debut for the dual directors Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), Swiss Army Man is a surreal comic fantasy about a stranded man seeking the most unlikely form of assistance. Indeed, Manny turns out to be a very special corpse, with skills such as flatulence-powered jet skiing or shooting out fresh water from his mouth. The two’s journey back to civilization is fueled by the desire to be united with the enigmatic Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whose photo Hank keeps on his phone.

Ever since the film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Swiss Army Man has gained the reputation as the “Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse movie.” Indeed, the film does feature a healthy dose of toilet humour, much of which involves farting. However, the film actually turns out to be somewhat more than that. It remains ambiguous throughout the film whether Manny is truly a living corpse or merely a figment of Hank’s starvation, however the two end up developing a bond for each other that is probably stronger than anything Hank has had in his life before being stranded.

Swiss Army Man is built entirely on the chemistry between Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, with the bulk of the film solely focusing on the two. Radcliffe’s performance as the titular character ends up being much more complex than the obvious Weekend at Bernie’s comparison. As the film goes on, Manny progressively regains his humanity as he remembers what it is like to live, becoming much less corpse-like in the process. There are some quite hilarious interactions between Hank and Manny, with the latter often ending up saying something that is quite inappropriate. Even though she has third billing in the film, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is little more than a cameo for most of the story, existing primarily as a photo on Hank’s phone.

Other than the performances, a stand out element in the film’s a cappella score. Not only is the melody catchy enough to get stuck in your head, but there are even scenes in the film when Dano and Radcliffe are singing along with the score, giving it a fourth-wall breaking feel. There really needs to be more films that feature this type of score.

Overall, while the film’s heavy reliance on toilet humour might turn off some viewers, I can confidently say that Swiss Army Man is one of the most unique, surreal, and entertaining films that I will see this year.

9 / 10 stars
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Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).