When Neil Breen makes a feature film, it’s an event. A paragon of bad movie filmmaking and a cult figure in his own right, Breen became the stuff of legends when his previous film, 2013’s Fateful Findings, was recognized as the new frontrunner of Bad Moviedom, threatening to dethrone even Tommy Wiseau’s magnum opus, The Room. The key difference between Breen and Wiseau (other than their frequency – Breen is now up four films to Wiseau’s one, in about the same amount of time) is the quality of their awfulness. Whereas The Room is a poorly constructed drama, bolstered by incomprehensible screenwriting and baffling direction, Breen’s films strike me as being completely alien to this world, seemingly constructed by a person so out of touch with reality that they fail to grasp even the most basic of human interactions. His output suggests he is operating on another plane of existence, irrevocably detached from our universe.
I mean, just take a look at the guy: doesn’t he strike you as a 50 year old Patrick Swayze crossed with a Vulcan?
Which brings us to Neil Breen’s latest film, Pass Thru. Put simply, IT IS THE GREATEST THING YOU WILL EVER SEE. The apotheosis of Breen’s interests in the paranormal, the supernatural, and the cosmic, this is a piece of work that is so wild and so incredibly bonkers that if I even began to make sense of it my head would explode. As a director, this is Breen’s crowning achievement. Everything he has done has been leading up to this: HE HAS REACHED MAXIMUM BREEN. At least, until he makes his next film. But before we delve into Pass Thru, here’s a little background on Breen: A self-proclaimed maverick in the world of independent filmmaking, when Breen’s not crafting works of cinematic genius he works as an architect in Las Vegas. Prior to that, he had no filmmaking knowledge, nor did he attend film school. He does not associate himself with “Hollywood’s insider groups," and proudly writes, directs, produces, stars, shoots, edits, and provides sack lunches to every film he works on. I had the fortune of meeting Mr. Breen before the Los Angeles premiere of Pass Thru, and he was kind enough to offer a brief interview after the film played (skip to the bottom of this article if you can’t be bothered to hear what I thought of the film). Here’s a photo we snapped right before the film started:
The plot, then. Pass Thru is set in a modern United States (I think), and follows multiple storylines, all connected through visits to a dimension located “a thousand light years into the future.” A group of immigrants and drug smugglers are found crossing the border in the middle of a desert (which is actually just a flimsy chain-link fence) and swiftly rounded up by border patrol and deposited in desolate housing and school bus locations. Two members of the group (a woman and her niece) manage to evade capture and flee the mercenaries into the unknown terrain. Meanwhile, a trio of young pre-teen space explorers are venturing out into the same desert, eager to make their first intergalactic discovery. They are aided by a kindly Professor, a bedridden fellow in constant need of an oxygen tank to breathe. And at the center of all this is Neil Breen’s character, a heroin-addicted vagabond who introduces himself as Thgil (pronounced “till,” and yes, it is just “light” spelled backwards. He calls himself that after he reads it on a yogurt container). Thgil uses drugs to fuel his excursions to another dimension by means of passing through (titular) a giant rock wall, which leads him to an isolated land, guarded by a tiger and a host of mysterious cave paintings. I can’t explain it any better than that.
Like his other efforts, a straightforward narrative is too much to ask, with Breen essentially turning his back on the unknowing audience member to fulfill the bizarro desires. The storyline with the refugees makes vague references to corrupt politicians, law enforcement, and CEOs, finding Breen in his element as he freely targets oppressive bureaucratic forces. At one point Breen visits a government-hosted house party (crudely rendered on green-screened backgrounds of promotional real estate photos), and becomes disgusted with the irresponsible and amoral actions enforced on the public. This ends as it must, with Breen walking away in slo-motion while the house explodes behind him. IT IS THE GREATEST THING YOU WILL EVER SEE.
Most of the action finds Breen in the desert as mysterious wanderer Tghil, and sequences devoted to his journeys to the spirit world are filmed with a nifty drone-cam, which actually provides the most exciting footage in the film (the swift zoom outs are particularly breathtaking). When Thgil is asked if he’s from the future, he attests that he is the future, and demonstrates his ability to travel through space and time by bending a rubber hose in half, a phenomenon last experienced in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. When Breen bends that hose in half, IT IS THE GREATEST THING YOU WILL EVER SEE. Eventually, Breen, fed up with humanity’s lack of natural progression, takes it upon himself to eradicate evil from the earth, dissolving every heinous person he encounters before making a brilliant speech on live television, explaining his true purpose. It’s a show-stopping moment from our intrepid director, and will surely have you leaping from your seat in celebration.
As for the kids researching their latest cosmic findings, let me just say this: you haven’t lived until you’ve seen three children try to push an old man in a wheelchair through the desert. Once again, IT IS THE GREATEST THING YOU WILL EVER SEE.
So, is Pass Thru worth seeing? Abso-fuckin-lutely. Breen is at his no-budget best here, and the film suggests real growth as a filmmaker. Yes, it’s terrible as all hell, but it’s a special kind of terrible that makes it so appealing. Breen is definitely onto something here, I’m just not sure what it is (and I’m not sure if he does either).
As promised, here’s my insightful interview with Neil Breen, taken right after the film ended:
Jake Tropila: So, Mr. Breen, tell me, after watching this film, which was incredible, by the way, I’m wondering, who are some of your biggest influences in cinema?
Neil Breen: You know, I get asked that question a lot, and the truth is I’m not influenced by anything. I mean, I’ve seen them all, I know them all, but nothing influences me.
JT: Alright. Was there anything in particular that inspired you to make this film?
NB: Nothing in particular inspired me, you know, I’ve always had a fascination with mysticism and the supernatural, and if you notice I don’t identify any specific groups It’s all about Humanity with a capital “H.”
JT: Right, right. So, when you’re making a film, you’re the writer, director, and lead actor, and you’re also credited as the DP; are you shooting scenes while you’re in them?
NB: I have a camera operator. Strictly a technical person. But I do the work on the cinematography of the film. I frame, set-up, light, everything.
JT: Amazing. Are there any difficulties you faced while editing the picture?
NB: Now, there are a few things that come up, for instance, there’s a scene where I dissolve between shots, and the girl’s head did not match, and so when I dissolve, I thought I had covered that on set! But you know, it’s the way it is.
JT: I gotcha. At one point, the vest that your character wears in Double Down returns, is this simply an easter egg, or does it
NB: Well, I needed it to show how one character was in the military.
JT: With the vest with the medals?
JT: Alright. As of now, there’s only a handful of screenings for Pass Thru, are you considering expanding to any other areas or having a wider theatrical run?
NB: Sure. I’ll tell ya, if anybody asks, the bottom line is, I’m just an independent guy. If any place wants to bring me down, put me in a hotel, I can’t cover the expenses. This film is self-funded, and I know what the frick to do now.
JT: Yeah, definitely. I gotta know, are you working on another project?
NB: Yeah, the next one will be different, content-wise and stylistically.
JT: Well, I’m definitely looking forward to that. Thanks again, for your time.
NB: Thank you.
So there you have it. Neil Breen knows what the frick to do, and he’s promised great things for us. I certainly can't wait. Until then, this is Jake Tropila, signing off