There are few things as frustrating to a writer as being blocked. Writer’s block itself has become something of a cliche at this point, frequently portrayed in films or books as a metaphor for everything from impotence to hell. What’s a writer to unblock himself? How about pick up an anonymous drifter and descend into a nightmarish game of cat and mouse?
That’s just what writer Paul (Antonio Banderas) does in Brian Goodman’s Black Butterfly, a remake of the French film Papillon Noir. The drifter, Jack (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), defends Paul when an angry local tries to pick a fight with him over a near-traffic accident, and perhaps feeling guilty, Paul takes Jack back to his mostly secluded estate.
Paul found fame and fortune with his writing at a young age, but now in his later years, prospects have dried up. His wife has left him, he’s unable to right, and the bills are piling up. He can’t afford to buy groceries anymore, and he’s desperately trying to sell off his house with the help of realtor Laura (Piper Perabo). On top of all this, there’s an apparent serial killer prowling the countryside around Paul’s home.
When Paul brings Jack home, the men develop an instant report that goes south rather quickly, particularly when Paul wakes up to find Jack holding a knife to his throat. Jack grows increasingly unhinged, and why Paul doesn’t kick him out right away is a mystery. Things only grow increasingly more strained, eventually descending into violence.
It all seems to be going accordingly to plan, and then Black Butterfly decides to reveal a big twist. And if that’s not enough for it, it decides to reveal one more after that. It can be difficult to pull of a convincing twist, and it’s almost impossible to pull off one where almost everything you thought you knew was 100% incorrect. Black Butterfly does not rise above the challenge. It reveals its twist in an almost half-hearted fashion, and you’re left befuddled as a result.
There’s a lot of material here for a tidy little thriller, but Goodman and screenwriters Justin Stanley and Marc Frydman don’t seem to know how to stick the landing. The characters are unmotivated, and just what is driving any of them is a mystery. Banderas and Rhys Meyers both give it their all, but they’re betrayed by material. Writer’s block can be daunting, but that’s no excuse for sloppy storytelling.