A wonderfully surreal, psychedelic, and reality-bending experiment, Don Peyote is a fascinating film for when you’re really, really high. For the sober folks, not so much.
Dan Fogler plays Warren, an overweight, out-of-work, would-be comic book artist who is on the cusp of both marriage and his 30s. He’s directionless, and kind of a nonentity, content to be completely non-contributary to the world. One day, he is accosted by a mad doomsayer on the street and gets a drop of his madness-addled sweat on him. Something in the man’s sweat causes Warren to disappear down a new, bleary-eyed, hallucination-based obsession with filming the world’s conspiracies first-hand. If you’ve ever read any novels by Robert Anton Wilson, this will be like catnip.
Fogler (who also co-wrote and co-directed) has accomplished something wonderfully weird with Don Peyote. He has captured the spirit of marijuana-based conspiracy rambling with surprisingly authentic insanity. He wants to show the bonkers unraveling of a mind being slowly undone by chemicals, paranoia, and what might possibly be actual world conspiracies (in an early scene, Anne Hathaway shows up as a mysterious assassin-like spook to explain every last facet of the universe to our hapless hero, and we can’t be sure if she’s real or not).
Since the film takes place in 2012, it’s not long before Warren is making a documentary about the end of the world, conspiracies in the Mayan calendar, government cover-ups, and space aliens. All while his fiancee plans their wedding and becomes increasingly distant. It’s all very twisted. Personally, as an ordained minister in The Church of the SubGenius, I fell like I’ve heard all this before. And while the improvised and (I think) real documentary footage is great, it pales in comparison to real true conspiracy insanity like The Illuminatus! Trilogy.
It’s rare that a film aspire to be this weird anymore, and I am often forgiving any happy mutant willing to give it a go. Often these films don’t quite work as dramas or as offbeat absurdist statements of any kind, but occasionally you’ll find an at-least-notable gem in the lot; I was fond of Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at the End, for instance.
Unfortunately, Don Peyote, for all its freakout ambitions, bizarre visuals, and copious, relentless WTF moments (was that orgy really happening? And who throws a bonkers circus orgy like the one depicted?) doesn’t quite stick. Just like someone who is blitzed out on the Mary Jane, Don Peyote begins to feel like its rambling after a while, even if it might sound profound at the time. You may be distracted by the celebrity cameos (in addition to Hathaway, Jay Baruchel, Topher Grace, Wallace Shawn, and cult director Abel Fararra appear), but they can only take you so far. After a while, you might find yourself just as bored by the insanity as actually listening to a real stoner.
There is promise in this shabby piece of oddness, and I constantly hold out hope for every new potentially oddball cult gem to come along. Sadly, this film is a mere splattering of weird ideas rather than the steeltrap genuine bugnuts funhouse it could have been. It’s a sticky mess of a movie. You won’t see anything like it, but that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily enjoy it.