Technologies will change but the nature of people does not, their needs and desires remaining constant while the opportunities open to them evolve and expand in ways unimaginable to previous generations. “What do we believe?” is the question asked; the conditioned response being “There’s a better life waiting for us.” Given the chance to take that better life, who wouldn’t?
Slater Brenner (Torchwood and Downton Abbey’s Lachlan Nieboer) has a good life, working in a data capture/software development environment, devoted to his beautiful girlfriend Nadia Seville (The Descent and Doomsday’s Nora-Jane Noone).
Woken by persistent banging on the door in the middle of the night, Slater opens it to find three masked and armed people demanding Nadia; though they threaten to kill her if he does not cooperate it’s obvious they want her alive, though he may be expendable.
A fight ensues and one of the intruders is killed, but the other two escape with Nadia, Slater giving chase into the street as they pull away in their van when a nearby telephone box rings. He picks it up and a looped recorded voice tells him to go back to where the body lies; he does so and removes the mask and sees the face of… Nadia?
Unable to tell the police she’s missing when her dead body is apparently lying at his feet, it is suggested he attend the offices of Brand New-U where a proposal is made to him, that they will find an “identical” for him so he can upgrade his life in the same way Nadia has done. The only two rules are that he can take nothing of his former life with him, and that everything he was in that life is now the sole property of the company.
From the damp cobbled streets and bare brick walls of Slater’s flat to the unnamed, brightly lit city of futuristic architecture where he finds himself, the debut dramatic feature of writer/director Simon Pummell is a visual delight, but it is unreal.
Seeming to exist in a near cashless, trashless, artfully designed enclave of quiet utopia of mild weather and comfortable brandless clothing, it’s a simulation of life, not life itself.
The repeated statements of the personality test making the viewer question their own responses as much as the subject, whether the honest answer is what the assessors actually want to hear or not, Slater is eager to pass, the question never asked what the gain for the organisation is, nor what happens to those who have been replaced.
Like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the proposition is nothing less than a total reinvention of self, but a person cannot be overwritten like a computer program, memory and desire persisting whether wanted or not.
Building a sense of unease as the camera twists through the corridors, Roger Goula Sarda’s soundtrack echoing the vortex of Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo, the doppelgangers of Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece are recalled in the distorted reflections and spirals which dominate the film.
Carried almost solely by the restrained performances of Nieboer and Noone it’s engaging rather than gripping, resembling an extended episode of Black Mirror, a cautionary “what if?” tale for a modern world of uncertain loyalty and transient relationships.
With a doomed inevitability which reminds of Perfect Sense, as with so many films it would benefit from tightening, but that its ambition is slightly beyond its grasp is understandable and forgivable, for its ambition is vast.