Narcopolis1He makes a compelling witness to the reasons for the legalisation of drugs, does Todd Ambro, founder of the Ambro Corporation, a quite literally self-made man who twenty five years earlier was instrumental in the relaxing of the legislation. “My parents were drug addicts…. As a child I became very familiar with hospital waiting rooms.”

Explaining how their addiction “turned decent people into cockroaches,” out of that came his desire to make drug use affordable and safe upon which he built his empire which stands looking over the neon lit London cityscape in the year 2044, yet high in one of those buildings is a hi-tech infiltrator, bypassing the security systems with ease yet knowing the clock is counting down until they are captured…

Narcopolis2But the future did not become this overnight, and in 2024 Frank Grieves is having a bad night on the job. The first body was bad enough – nothing says squalid like a fat man in a leather harness weeping over a dead junkie by a single bar electric radiator – but the second stiff of the night is the mystery. There’s no DNA trace on the records to identify the corpse, there’s no sign of them entering the building on the CCTV and the body is burning up in front of their very eyes.

An autopsy is no more enlightening, the only anomaly being a synthetic enzyme injected into the hippocampus. A new unlicensed drug on the streets? Just what Frank needs, with his wife wanting to move north to get out of the city, get their son Ben away from the rogue addiction traders who haunt the streets and knock on the doors of the high rise blocks and offer free samples. It’s all legal since the laws were relaxed…

Narcopolis3Filmed “in freezing cold weather for very little money,” and putting his experiences in theatre to good use the feature debut of writer/director Justin Trefgarne (Captcha) achieves a great deal with the limited resources, using whatever is available to best advantage and focusing on the assets he does have: a strong cast and a smart script.

As Frank, Da Vinci’s Demons‘ Elliot Cowan is a dogged cop rather than a good one, a former user who back in the day messed up an operation which ended up with a fellow officer taking a bullet, and now his boss is getting pressure from above to get him off this case which only makes Frank more convinced that there is more to it than meets the eye.

Narcopolis5The supporting cast includes Dracula’s Robert Bathurst, Battlestar Galactica‘s James Callis as Todd Ambro, still presenting a smiling face for the cameras and another for those who cross him behind closed doors, Harry Lloyd and Jonathan Pryce, both veterans of Doctor Who and Game of Thrones and Elodie Yung, soon to be seen as Elektra in the second season of Daredevil.

While the future may consist largely of high rise tenements, industrial sites and underground car parks, the urban landscapes and locations are tweaked in the same way as Gareth Edwards did on Monsters, the digital enhancements subtle but cumulatively effective and complemented by simple practical means such as barcoded licence plates on all the vehicles.

Narcopolis4There are similarities between Narcopolis and a 1997 episode of The X-Files (to name it would give too much away) though the film itself offers perhaps too pointed a clue to unravelling the tangled ouroboros in the early scenes, arming the audience with a piece of information which allows them to construct the jigsaw too quickly.

Even so, as an ambitious independently financed British film it has more to offer than many flashier offerings whose major studio backing financed big names and bigger explosions but came up short on originality, ideas and innovation, inevitably more valuable commodities in the realms of science fiction.

Having premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Narcopolis will be released on DVD on Monday 28th September




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