Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Tangent Room

My notes on Tangent Room, now out on US digital platforms


This 65-minute chamber piece is a little like a mash-up of Fermat’s Room and Coherence, which is appropriate since universes colliding (and overlapping) is one of the avenues its hard-thinking characters are forced to explore.  Four genius-level scientists in maths-related disciplines are summoned to an observatory in the Chilean desert by the reclusive genius Dr Wahlstein (David Epstein), who appears in a recorded message to give them a series of numbers they frantically copy onto scribble-pads and tells them they are likely to die in a few hours unless they solve a problem he doesn’t really specify.  Naturally, the door handle is now electrified, so Swedish mathematician Sandra (Lisa Bearpark), American quantum physicist Carol (Jennifer Lila Knipe), English-Asian astrophysicist Kate (Vee Vimolmal) and Swedish electromagentics expert David (Hakan Julander) settle down to hash things out as the clock runs down to a personal (and perhaps universal) doomsday.


A few impressive establishing shots of Chile and some later starscapes provide touches of relief, but for the most part we’re in the drab meeting room, with only a chalkboard and bland furniture as set dressing.  We don’t even get electronic surveillance devices or death traps.  This means the film has to focus on its characters as much as its themes, and all four big brains are credible, interesting folk, if not exactly good company (though, under the circumstances, who would be).  It’s refreshing that writer-director Bjorn Engstrom trusts audiences to follow some quite abstruse thinking, and treats clever people not as freaks but as ordinary, flawed characters … though Wahlstein, who does eventually return from the grave (sort of), is much more in the line of traditional wild-haired, ranting visionary.


For the most part, this bottle show could be a play … but the last third starts messing with time and dimensions, shifting alternate versions of the key cast in and out of reality, as if the God of this multiverse were Shane Carruth in Primer mode, and amusingly showing how difficult it might be for multiple iterations of the same group of people might have trouble holding a conversation when key bits of information keep being blipped out in between the grinding surfaces of converging realities.  It is a little on the slight side, talking up vast cosmic forces but (let’s face it) sticking to the sort of room we’ve all sat in and forgotten about, but doesn’t outwear its welcome.


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