Lodge Kerrigan’s “Rebecca H. (Return to the Dogs)” is both the director’s most experimental and technically simplest work — and, perhaps not coincidentally, the worst of his career. Ostensibly the story of Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick, the movie instead presents a wandering, incoherent narrative presumably devoted to the nature of performance. While Kerrigan certainly does take a radical approach to the biopic that has never been done before, his decision to buck conventional structure simply amounts to a drag.
The muse in this case is not actually Slick but the actress portraying her, Geraldine Pailhas, not to mention Kerrigan himself. From early scenes, Kerrigan reveals himself on camera directing Pailhas, then piles on interviews with her discussing her intentions with the role. In one prolonged sequence, she acts alongside Pascal Gregory in the same scene over and over again, repeating takes and modifying the tenor of her emotional expressions, allowing Kerrigan to establish (or perhaps destroy) the unorthodox mood.
To be fair, the first few minutes during which this approach emerges hint at an energizing kind of filmmaking innovation, but Pailhas’s raw and (sometimes literally) naked presence fails to shake an overly brooding tone that slows down the entire experience. Not even a fully-formed idea, the project loses the ambition of its earlier scenes with a series of prolonged long takes in which Pailhas simply wanders around. It’s a bad sign when a movie runs an hour and fifteen minutes, and a good portion of it merely follows an unhurried character as she walks down an empty street.
Kerrigan, whose remarkable ability to replicate psychoses in cinematic terms reached miraculous proportions in both “Clean, Shaven” and “Keane,” works against his strengths with this sloppy effort. I suppose defenders could argue that it’s all a profound lark, but that angle would require creative invention on the part of the explainer. Tricky methods aside, “Rebecca H.” practically rejects profundity in favor of useless ambition.