Tom (Jim Schubin), an unpublished young writer, and Eve (Chloe Carroll), an aspirant commercial artist, are short of cash … and so they pretend to be married in order to qualify for an experiment overseen by a social scientist (Francois Chau) who says he wants to see whether ‘the honeymoon phase’ of marriage can be infinitely extended.
With the promise of a $50,000 payoff at the end of the month, the pair move into an enclosed luxury apartment under constant surveillance, with an occasional hologram interface (Tara Westwood), and just get on with things. Tom, of course, will write his book, and Eve designs a cover for it – but, as an ominous frame story with an older Tom establishes, things are going to go wrong, whether from cracks in the couple’s fake marriage or thanks to subtle interference from the white coats looking in on them. There’s a disturbing eruption from one of the other sealed environments in the complex, which everyone trues to convince Eve didn’t happen … and even the hologram seems to be stirring things with the odd unhelpful whisper, while Tom’s book comes along only slightly better than Jack Torrance’s.
This joins a recent run of films about dubious experiments – Vivarium, Little Joe, Level 16, Let’s Be Evil – which start relatively benignly, then escalate into extravagant and horrific happenings. Writer-director Phillip G. Carroll Jr, making a feature debut after a clutch of shorts, goes for a cool, plausible, understated look – the couples under the microscope have to wear oddly sleek uniforms and the facility has that new, set-like, mostly white feel – and homes in on microaggressions as things get out of control before introducing a host of new mindstretching science fiction elements in the busy, but not confusing finale.
Schubin and Carroll are excellent as the leads, both likeable and credible at the outset but with flaws exacerbated by circumstances – and therefore plausible when required to become desperate, monstrous or violent in the home stretch.