What are your desert island necessities? What, if you were stranded by yourself without access to all the conveniences of modern life, would you want to make sure you still had with you, assuming you have the choice? These could be be records, books, movies or other items that are so important to you, you just can’t fathom not having access to them. While all this always makes for interesting discussion over a beer or two, what you really need are tools to hunt and fish with, the ability to create shelter and start a fire and more. You need to survive before you can enjoy the collected works of Jane Austin for the rest of your days.
What if all those necessary tools of survival came in one convenient corpse? That’s the premise of Swiss Army Man. Paul Dano plays Hank, who’s stranded on a deserted island and about to kill himself before nature does it for him. As he’s about to commit the deed, though, he notices a body that’s floated to shore. Naming his new friend Manny, Hank uses it as some kind of companion in his loneliness, soon discovering Manny has strange abilities like being able to shoot things out of his mouth, zoom along the water like a jetski and more. It’s all very unusual.
Well, there’s the movie right there on the first poster. Dano and Radcliffe sit back-to-back on a small island, the former looking at the camera and the latter slumped over because he’s a corpse. At the top is a short review quote and at the bottom is the copy “We all need some body to lean on,” the spacing there indicative of the story.
A second poster takes a different approach, showing Dano holding on to Radcliffe as the two of them zoom through a cloud, flying upward into the sky. It again has a pull quote about how unique the movie is and includes the “winner” label from its Sundance premiere.
The first trailer, which debuted a few months after Sundance, immediately establishes the premise by showing Hank about to commit suicide. He stops when he sees Manny’s body has washed up on the shore and when it goes to investigate he finds that yeah, it’s farting pretty loudly. But Hank quickly finds that Manny’s body is full of useful features, from being able to launch harpoons to spraying projectiles at fishes and so on. He takes Manny everywhere on the island he’s stranded on and finds he’s handy in all kinds of situations, culminating with him riding Manny across the sea, propelled by the corpse’s flatulence.
Well, the trailer certainly delivers on the promise established by the Sundance buzz and does present a movie that’s centered around, in one form or another, by a farting corpse. But it also shows it’s not *just* about that but has an emotional journey behind it as Hank searches for not only rescue but also some sort of emotional connection.
A red-band trailer followed a bit later that starts off once again as Hank is about to kill himself. But that changes when he finds Manny’s body, which he discovers can do all kinds of things. The red-band nature of this trailer comes mainly from the addition of one specific power Manny has, with his johnson being able to point the way home.
Like I said, this has lots of the same beats as the previous trailer and so works on mostly the same level. That one additional element that’s added is funny, but it doesn’t add a whole lot to the overall presentation. It did, though, generated a lot of headlines that used the word “boner” which was largely the point.
Online and Social
When you first load the official website all you get is the title treatment. Click on that, though, and Manny falls from the top and a dialogue bubble appears announcing he’s here to rescue you. From there you can grab him with your mouse and drag him all over the screen. Click on him and he farts. Prompts come up occasionally telling you he can do more than just lie there but you need to send a text to find out more.
Other than that the only elements of the site are prompts to watch the trailer or buy the soundtrack.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There was at least one TV spot created that showed how useful Manny is in a variety of situations. There’s nothing here about the story, it’s just about showing the absurdity of the things Manny can do to help Hank get out of his stranded situation.
I’m sure there were online ads run as well and would anticipate more being run in a couple weeks when the movie opens wider.
Media and Publicity
The movie debuted at Sundance, where it became one of the festival’s most divisive movies very quickly, with some calling it a really interesting exploration of loneliness and others walking out of screenings because they found it offensive and trashy. The hook of “fart movie” made for easy headlines, but a few sites and people chose to dive a bit deeper than that. It took a bit longer than for other movies but it was eventually picked up for distribution by A24.
Radcliffe talked a bit in the press about playing a corpse and the challenges is presented him as an actor. He also went on a publicity tour with his undead double, making for some surreal photo opportunities.
The directing duo talked closer to release about how yes, this was a goofy premise for a movie and has led some people to call it strange and other terms. The story began, they admitted, as a joke and just kind of grew from there into a full feature film.
You have to kind of lean into the high-concept premise here when you’re trying to sell it. No, the story isn’t going to appeal to everyone and that’s alright. It’s a crazy notion – a corpse with super powers – that only works if you take the approach of saying “Yeah, we know. Let’s accept it and move on.” Luckily that’s exactly what the campaign does.
The trailers, posters, site and even the publicity campaign all state upfront that this is the most ridiculous movie you’ll see all year. That was the theme of the festival-generate buzz and it’s the core tenet of the marketing from A24. And it does look both ridiculous and pretty attractive if you’re into offbeat movies. No, this isn’t going to attract the same sort of crowd that’s anxious to see Central Intelligence this week but for moviegoers who like a little crazy in their viewing and look forward to the offbeat selections that come out every now and again, a title this certainly seems to have earned.