It begins with screaming and gunshots as a man awakes in what may be a vault or a cell. Fumbling in the darkness he illuminates it with the torch he finds at his feet to find a figure chained to the wall, hooded, a child, Alex. “They killed my mum,” he says, “The men in red masks.” Unchaining Alex, they make their escape from the back of the van pursued by their captors. Finding momentary cover in an overgrown and tangled graveyard, the man introduces himself as Ryan Reeve, a promising to help Alex even as he searches his pockets for some clue as to what has happened, finding he carries with him both a gun and a red mask.
Perhaps best known to audiences from his long run on Doctor Who as Rose Tyler’s boyfriend-on-call Mickey Smith, in ten years Noel Clarke has become practically a one man film industry, moving from acting, to writing, producing and then directing with his 2008 debut Adulthood. Also taking the lead role of Ryan, The Anomaly is Clarke’s second full length feature, blending science fiction and action as it moves from the astonishing future shape of London to New York as Ryan tries to discover what has happened to him and why he is being shadowed by the mysterious Harkin Langham (Ian Somerhalder).
Piecing together his fractured life Ryan comes to realise that someone is inhabiting and using his body, a process called droning, but determined to save Alex his only ally is Dana (Alexis Knapp), a tragic woman forced into prostitution by Russian gangsters, but the greater threat is Harkin. Son of the doctor who treated Ryan for post-traumatic stress disorder, he discovers that their company LSR Bioware folded after his rehabilitation therapist Doctor Francis Langham (Brian Cox) was accused of unethical practices.
Written by Simon Lewis with “additional material” by Clarke, the ambition of the project is clear as is the need for a further rewrite before production, but for the modest budget the film is a huge achievement. Visually flawless and assured, the digital enhancements to London’s docklands are as seamless as the suave tech the characters handle, but attempting to appeal to two divergent audiences reveals the patchwork beneath the facade.
The single take fight sequences are hugely impressive, Clarke, Somerhalder and the other actors clearly performing their own stunts, the cinematic oomph added by altering the frame rates with only the occasional dropped frame concealing where a punch has been pulled, but cued in too obviously and too frequently they run the same, a clockwork punctuation to hold the attention of the members of the audience untroubled by higher brain function despite the expertise of all involved.
Those seeking intellectual stimulation will also be disappointed; while Ryan’s ten minute interludes of lucidity give the film urgency, they all seem to occur at convenient moments when other characters are about to divulge crucial plot points, such as the interrogation of the geneticist Leonid Mermov (Niall Greig Fulton, his accent wandering between Scussian and Rottish), and the final explanation for the repeated surfacing of Ryan’s own consciousness which drives the story is as unconvincing as the presence of a trunk in Dana’s room with a full set of abandoned clothing in Ryan‘s size.
With his sudden gullibility at odds with his earlier determination the usually reliable Somerhalder is hampered by an underwritten character, his motivation revealed to be his attempt to obtain the approval of his disappointed megalomaniac daddy, and as Agents Travis and Elkin the good cop/bad cop routine of Ali Cook and Liam Hemsworth is without inspiration or grace and does not require repetition, though Hemsworth redeems himself in his final scene. Knapp, however, is painfully miscast, Dana‘s attachment to Ryan akin to an orphaned hatchling imprinting on the first object it sees, indicating the character should have been shown to be much more damaged than Knapp’s superficial performance conveys.