Lorraine Kreahling: ‘Herman massacres 35 high school students. And yet you feel for him.’
Published: Jun 14, 2013
You don’t expect to like Herman of the newly released film “Hello Herman,” starring the devilishly cute Garrett Backstrom and the subtly dynamic and roughly handsome Norman Reedus (of AMC’s “Walking Dead”). We meet sixteen-year-old Herman on his way to massacre 35 fellow high school students.
Reedus is the online journalist Lax Morales, whom Herman emails from inside the chained doors of his high school gym where he stands knee deep in bodies. Herman wants to tell Morales his story. Morales doesn’t expect to like Herman either. The dialog between the two takes place after Herman’s incarceration. With lots of help from flashbacks, we are drawn deeply into the worlds of both characters.
The intent of this surprisingly touching film, with a screenplay by John Buffalo Mailer, is not to excuse Herman’s horrific act. Rather, under Michelle Danner’s sensitive direction, a veil is lifted on how evil gets layered into character over time. We witness a once innocent boy become isolated, alienated, and brutally bullied by his peers. We see how what the poet W.H. Auden wrote, is true: “Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.”
Wisely, the blood in the movie is limited to video games. The shots fired by Herman — and captured on the head-mounted camera he wears that fateful day — end in freeze frames that show only his victim’s terror. And there is something wonderful about the filmmaker’s decision to eliminate scenes that mirror today’s action movies, where a gun-wielding hero stands godlike over the carnage he’s wrought. It also keeps this disquieting and deeply moving film appropriate for younger audiences.
Mailer originally wrote "Hello Herman" as a play in response to the Columbine shootings, and it spawned the Hello Herman Project, which uses this drama in schools to inspire conversation on bullying between adults and kids. The film promises to be a new asset in this effort.
In one theory of early trauma, the traumatized child encapsulates his injured soul in a safe place in his imagination, a place where violence — and human feeling — can never again reach him. That’s where Herman seems to live. But in his final interview with Morales before his execution, something breaks through to Herman’s long ago broken heart — and he weeps violently, saying that he is sorry.
Love does not save the day in this disturbing film; but you certainly can feel how it might have. And you may not like Herman, but in the end, this viewer anyway wanted to embrace him. [To rent the film now or see where it’s playing, click here.]