Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Identicals: Meet Your Life Match, Again and Again

What if you were the evil twin? You would probably want to take over your doppelganger’s nicer life. If that were the case, you might be interested in the Brand New-U corporation’s services. They specialize in finding your “identical” and moving you into their “life-space.” Sometimes it gets a little messy, as when a dead identical is left in place of Slater’s girlfriend Nadia. Hoping to find her again, he will accept their offer of free life-matching in Simon Pummell’s Identicals (a.k.a. Brand New-U, trailer here), which opens this Friday in select theaters.

When Slater met Nadia to celebrate his birthday, she had the place decked out quite romantically, but there was still something foreboding that the tragically unintuitive stiff could not pick up on. The commando-style BN-U team expected to find her alone, but Slater’s presence led to awkward complications, like the Nadia’s dead-ringer lying dead at his feet.

Engaging in swift damage control, a BN-U manager offers Slater the opportunity to move up to an identical’s better life. Figuring it will give him a chance to search for Nadia—and avoid prosecution for her murder—he accepts the somewhat Faustian bargain.

Of course, he quickly violates both the letter and the spirit of the pact. Life-matchers are not supposed to take anything with them from their previous life-space. They are to look forwards, not backwards. However, Slater has other ideas. Unlike Nadia, whom he finds in rather short order, he maintains full awareness of his previous life. She seems to have no memory of him, but the spark is still there. Unfortunately, you do not break the rules of Brand New-U without attracting attention.

Identicals is a wildly stylish film that periodically unleashes its unabashedly surrealist impulses. As pure head-trip cinema, it is unusually extravagant and potent. However, its internal logic is slippery at best. Apparently, actors no longer ask “what is my motivation in this scene” or Pummell is not inclined to care, because characters are constantly following inexplicably perverse courses of action. It all starts with Brand New-U. Being an evil corporation is all well and good, but they have to be able to monetize their villainy. Rather bizarrely, they seem to target the rich at the behest of disadvantaged identicals. Its like Occupy Life Space over there.

Regardless, Reiner van Brummelen’s coolly elegant cinematography makes the dystopian future look beautiful and sinister in equal measure. Roger Goula Sarda’s electronic ambient soundtrack recalls the glory days of Tangerine Dream. As a crafter of imagery, Pummell can hang with Terry Gilliam, while maintaining a vibe of overwhelming paranoia. Apparently, he is just too big picture to bother connecting the micro-dots, but those mechanical hiccups take viewers out of his carefully constructed world to ask: “wait a minute, why are they doing this?”

Nora-Jane Noone gives a wonderfully rich and multi-faceted performance as the various personas of Nadia. She makes it clear she is sort of playing the same character, but maybe not, without beating us over the head. As Slater, Lachlan Nieboer (best known as the blind convalescing soldier in season two of Downton Abbey) is convincingly out of his depth and reasonably intense as he gets caught up in the bedlam.

Even with its ample plot-holes, Identicals is a refreshingly ambitious work of social-psychological science fiction, especially given its severe budget constraints. It looks great and keeps pulling us back down the rabbit-hole, regardless whether any of it makes proper sense. Recommended for genre fans who can put aside pedantry and enjoy the trip, The Identical opens this Friday (3/25) in targeted release.