by Phil Garrett
Martin Grof’s Sensation is a low-tech science fiction mystery/thriller that pulls together familiar plotlines and devices including a protagonist with a mysterious family history, people with superhuman abilities, research facilities, unknown threats, and the dynamic of the real world vs. the dream world. The film feels more than inspired by films such as Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Tenet, along with the superhuman sub-sub-genre.
The plot centers around Andrew (Eugene Simons, Game of Thrones), a young man with no knowledge of his family history, including his father’s identity. Andrew is drawn into a patchwork mystery after a strange and confrontational meeting with Dr. Marinus (Alastair G. Cumming), who delivers Andrew’s DNA test results. He is then followed by mysterious men in matching gray hats who disappear from the film as quickly as they appear. Marinus confronts him and explains that Andrew’s life is in danger and only by joining a secret research program to explore his superhuman sensory powers will he be safe.
Safe from whom? Good question. The veil of vagueness seems to be part of Grof’s attempt to build tension, but it plays as a trope in the boldest of terms, whether through familiar scenarios or bald dialogue that could be delivered by characters in any similar movie.
Andrew heads off to a secret research facility in the remote English countryside at an appropriately gothic manor estate. There he meets the “enigmatic” Nadia (Emily Wyatt, the Rise of the Footsoldier franchise) who runs the program. We’re introduced to the research group, all of whom have different super-senses like Andrew, all drawn together for special training to learn, focus and sharpen their abilities, and all in danger from unknown forces.
Sound familiar? The double-secret secret of their powers? They can “receive information” via their senses, which is highly valued by, you guessed it, that vaguely defined threat.
The film weaves its way through scenes and sequences that, again, seem more than inspired by other films, delivered with that mix of vagueness and baldness we’ve become familiar with. The dramatic action plays out fairly flatly with huge exposition dumps dropped in at just the right time. The story heads down a spiral of interwoven plots and subplots that are not fully baked, culminating in a protracted final act that tries hard to be inventive but feels like a different movie altogether.
Story aside, the cinematography visual style – ranging from foreboding interiors of the manor house to the sharp, vibrant streets of London – is well put together and effective for the low-tech nature of the film, often elevating the storytelling. The score is impressive but sometimes used as a crutch for dramatic tension. Eugene Simons and the ensemble should be given credit for their work in trying to bring some emotional truth to the film.
Hard-core genre fans may be interested in this exploration of familiar territory, but overall, Sensation plays like a love letter to a genre, and ends up a fractured, amalgamated narrative that works hard to be entertaining and intriguing but doesn’t quite get there.