(Danger, danger! Major spoilers ahead.)
I wish that all I could say about this movie was that there was a missed opportunity to play Electric Six’s Danger! Danger! High Voltage in the background, but alas dear reader, I must confirm that this movie was a bit of a miss for me.
First things first: I’m a big Luke Wilson fan, and the thought of a science-fiction thriller starring him and David Arquette immediately grabbed my attention. That said, I don’t know what Luke Wilson is doing here, and I’m not entirely convinced that he knows what he’s doing here either.
And before I earn the ire of any fans of this film any more, I do want to say that there were a lot of fine elements to this movie. The cinematography was nothing short of stunning, and I often found myself getting lost in how it was shot instead of immersing myself into the plot. The music was also excellent, despite not featuring the previously mentioned Electric Six song. Each of these elements allowed me to enjoy carrying through High Voltage, but the characters lost me as their story started to unfold.
HIGH VOLTAGE begins with a quasi-familiar theme: Washed-up one-hit wondermaker Jimmy (Arquette) meets beautiful singer Rachel (Allie Giono) and Married Guy With Strained Marriage (Ryan Donowho) who followed her to Jimmy’s birthday party. Unsurprisingly, they decide to start a band together, and over a series of rockin’ montages, we learn more about Rachel, Jimmy, and Married Guy With Strained Marriage. Spoiler alert: the married guy is in love with Rachel!
(I feel like I should note here that Arquette narrates throughout the entire film with a brusk, gravel-like tone as though he were auditioning for a parody piece of Christian Bale’s version of Batman. It’s perplexing, yet entertaining nonetheless.)
Though the film starts with a teaser of what’s to come, the story really begins about half-way through when Rachel and her “bossy, pageant-mom” are struck by lightning. Both subsequently die, but Rachel gets lucky (somehow): After three hours she miraculously returns to life. Her mother isn’t so fortunate.
What follows is pretty cool conceptually; there’s something palpably off about Rachel, especially once she discovers that she gets a rejuvenating high from electricity-fueled kisses that leave each unfortunate recipient a smoldering human husk. As their band Hollow Body — a name that’s just a touch too on the nose — rockets towards fame, Jimmy and Married Guy With Strained Marriage start to realize that their success has come with a body count. That includes Luke Wilson, who makes an appearance at Hollow Body’s album launch party to be a total creeper and then die at the hands — er, lips — of Rachel, who has clearly lost all control of her murderous urges.
It’s at this party that the turn is revealed: Rachel’s mother spirit has evidently been inhabiting her body and is, presumably, the one forcing her into all the murderous, reckless activity. It’s a disappointing turn to say the least, especially since it’s immediately followed by the very end of the movie. There’s no exploration of any internal battle between Rachel and her mom’s spirit. No reconciliation or confrontation whatsoever. Instead, the band takes a break — with lots of . When they reunite, Rachel kills Married Guy With Strained Marriage’s wife at what ends up being their final show. Then lightning strikes the stage and we find out that our narrator, Jimmy, has actually been dead the whole time.
I really wanted to like this movie since the concept was so interesting, but everything about the execution of the characters felt stuck in old tropes. I would have loved to see the women characters explored better – we’re given so much insight into Jimmy & MGWASM’s thoughts and emotions, but hardly any insight into Rachel’s mind. That becomes compounded by the obvious oversimplification of the complicated relationship between Rachel and her mother combined with the movie’s unworthwhile encouragement for us to sympathize with the Married Guy With Strained Marriage (who is the most sincerely unlikable character ever) made for an — unfortunately — less than illuminating watch.