Hoping for Unicorns

Zone 414

by Hope Madden

“Do you know what rich people want? Everything.”

True enough. And in lesser hands, that line might feel trite, but Andrew Baird’s SciFi neo-noir Zone 414 boasts a very solid ensemble. Mostly.

The actor delivering that line, the always formidable Olwen Fouéré (The Survivalist), joins reliable character actors including Jonathan Aris, Ned Dennehy, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Fionnula Flanagan (The Others) to populate this low-rent Blade Runner.

Which Blade Runner? Either one — although the beauty in a wig with blue bangs suggests Baird leans more recent. She’s Jane (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Revenge), a sexual synthetic living in the upscale seedy utopia Zone 414, where meat (humans) pay lots of money to spend time doing whatever they want with the likes of Jane.

But that’s not why David Carmichael (Guy Pearce) is in the zone. The super-wealthy mad hatter who designs these high-end toys, Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel), hired Carmichael to find his runaway teenager. Veidt’s daughter wishes to be synthetic so she doesn’t have to feel anything.

Yes, all the neo-noir tropes. None missing.

What Bryan Edward Hill’s script lacks in originality, Baird tries to make up for with world-building. It works to a degree and is aided immeasurably by the committed turns from his supporting players. Pearce is as reliable as always, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. He turns down about as many roles as Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage. Zone 414 is not one of his best.

It’s not one of his worst, either, but he does have a couple of problems. One is that his big, dramatic scenes tend to pair him not with the exceptional supporting talent, but the weaker leads. Lutz carries off the superficial damsel in distress well enough, but when the film asks her to get a little Ex Machina on us, she flails.

Worse still is Fimmel’s mad genius. That make-up and fat suit don’t help. I’m sure he’s not meant to be comic relief, but it’s hard to see him any other way.

Much of this is redeemed by a few intriguing scenes, but the writing fails Baird a few times too often.

Zone 414 tries really hard. It often fails. But not always.

Just Turn Around Now

The Survivalist

by Hope Madden

Lean, mean futuristic science fiction that feels unsettlingly like reality, The Survivalist ranks among the best dystopian films in recent memory. And as writer/director Stephen Fingleton creates an utterly plausible and devastatingly grim future, the film marks a first time filmmaker with an awful lot to say.

A solitary figure (Martin McCann – amazing) ekes out an existence in a shack hidden in the woods of Northern Ireland. His small field of crops is fertilized by the bodies of interlopers who happen upon him. He spends his days tending his vegetables and reinforcing his traps, but a haunted past and his own isolation are starting to wear at him.

Enter two hungry women: Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter, Milja (Mia Goth).

His first inclination is to do with them what we’ve seen him do with others who come too close to his holdout. But he’s tempted, made an offer for something not necessary for survival. Something he wants more than he needs.

For Milja and her mother, this is still nothing more than survival, which is what puts the three people on different planes of existence. The survivalist (for we never do know his name) has entered the treacherous and vulnerable area of want, and then the even more dangerous ground of hope.

The shifting power and landscape of the relationships is fascinating, made all the more powerful for lack of dialog. Who is in control? The answer varies scene by scene.

The title could stand for any of the three, and this trio of performances consistently impresses.

Fingleton lingers on glances and body language to reinforce the pitiless practicality that has taken the place of civilization. McCann’s silent chemistry with each character offers more insight into his character than pages of dialog could, and he’s matched in his efforts – particularly by Fouere.

The film, like its protagonists, is unapologetically efficient. But Fingleton and his director of photography Damien Elliott occasionally offer a glimpse of the beauty left in this dystopia – a beauty that existed long before and will persist long after man’s involvement.

Together, cast and crew trap you in slow-boil of primal instincts with an explosion the inevitable consequence.

Verdict-4-0-Stars