Michael Hutchence had a certain kind of energy that made him an exceptional performer. INXS is a band full of talented musicians, but one’s eyes can’t help but return to Hutchence’s dynamic presence whenever a clip of the group plays. His life tragically ended in 1997 when he committed suicide at the age of 37.
Mystify: Michael Hutchence aims to shed light on the singer’s troubled life. By only using archival footage throughout the narrative, director Richard Lowenstein keeps the focus on Michael while voice-overs from friends and family serve as the guiding force for the film. The end-result is quite satisfying, allowing for Hutchence to represent himself in a way that would otherwise be impossible.
The archival footage is spectacular, showcasing Michael at very intimate moments in his life. Fans looking to learn more about what he was really like are treated to numerous scenes of him on vacation or merely at home enjoying himself among friends. The scope of the footage fits well with the narrative, covering his happy days and well as the darker moments where it becomes clear that his health was deteriorating.
The film largely splits its attention between Michael’s time in INXS and his romantic relationships, an approach that may prove divisive for longtime fans. His bandmates only appear sporadically at the beginning and the end. There’s a bit of obvious tension between Andrew Farriss and Michael that isn’t really fully explored, particularly centered around the song “Disappear.”
To some extent, it makes sense that Michael’s time in the band doesn’t take up the bulk of the narrative. Mystify presents itself as a film about him, not them as a collective. The participation of several of Michael’s former lovers provides an intimate perspective that few documentaries can capture, but there’s a peculiar dynamic in place through the narrative. The film presents a deeply intimate perspective while also feeling that it’s holding back.
The film finds its footing toward the end as it explores the nature of a traumatic brain injury that robbed Hutchence of his ability to smell and taste. The footage of him after the injury exists in stark contrast to earlier, happier days. For anyone seeking a deeper understanding of precisely what happened to make him take his own life, Mystify peels back the unsettling curtain.
Mystify is a puzzling film, one that is quite powerful at times and rather boring at others. The decision to solely use archival footage perhaps set fairly rigid terms for the narrative, dictating the confines of where it could go. After awhile, the many accounts from his lovers start to get a bit tedious, especially in the absence of his bandmates.
As a documentary, Mystify is one intended for hardcore fans of INXS. It’s not a particularly accessible narrative for casual listeners. There remains the sense that the film didn’t live up to its full potential, dragging its feet at times with a runtime that was probably twenty minutes too long.
Despite its flaws, the documentary is a must-watch for anyone looking to learn more about Michael Hutchence. His story is heartbreaking. Mystify works best when it uses his own words to capture a life that sadly ended too soon.