My notes on the bizarro science fiction film.
Several recent straight-up horror films – Beyond the Gates, Knucklebones, Game of Death –unloose their demons on the world by having unwary folks tamper with 1980s vintage game-gadgets. This more elliptical, artier piece has its protagonist meld with a regooded arcade game – and goes for Videodrome-style mind/flesh-stretching rather than a supernatural body count. It’s impressive and odd, but perhaps a bit too oblique to connect as more than a cult item. The plot hinges on a well-scripted and –played relationship that still seems too much in debt to the much-critiqued manic pixie dream girl wish-fulfilment sub-genre, though Audrey (Audrey Wasilewski), the great-looking enthusiast for vintage games who hooks up with introverted techie Oz (Chase Williamson) isn’t especially manic or pixieish … just slightly less credible as a disconnected outsider than the leading man. Oz works for Jerry (Lyle Kanousse), whose warehouse of scavenged and fixed-up video games is going out of business, and tinkers compulsively with once-mighty arcade games that have been bypassed by the entertainment industry.
Frankenstein-fashion, Oz cobbles together a composite console which starts affecting his mind (and body) so that the course of his relationship hops about while gloopy matter sparks inside the cabinet (Altered States as much as Videodrome gets referenced). The narrative loops and mutates as much as Oz, with a mystery man (John Dinan) who pops in to harangue and interfere and tinker with the tech and might be a future or alternate incarnation of the protagonist or a previous victim of the game, but it remains a very shut-in effort as all the cosmic voyages are taken inside a big warehouse (the Cronenberg of The Fly must be another model) and doesn’t take the easy Tron route of sucking the characters into a game which has an easily identifiable set of goals. It’s a bit like playing a game with no accompanying rules or understanding of how to win or lose – which is actually a solid metaphor for life, but slightly unsatisfying in a philosophical science fiction picture.
Williamson and Wasilewski are strong performers who have mostly scored ‘additional voices’ credits on mainstream movies, animated and otherwise, but get a terrific showcase here. Written and directed by Graham Skipper (Space Clown), who has been working as an actor in edgy genre fare like Almost Human, The Mind’s Eye and (yes) Beyond the Gates.