Friday, September 15, 2017

Infinity Chamber: Dystopian Prison Break

Frank Lerner is in prison, but perhaps his mind can set him free. In this case, that is not a New Age platitude. His fully automated, near future dystopian prison is forcing him to relive his final day of relative freedom within his own subconscious. However, he is also looking for clues that would explain his increasingly desperate situation in Travis Milloy’s Infinity Chamber (trailer here), which opens today in Los Angeles.

After a long day of drudgery, Lerner was blasted by secret intelligence agents just as he was ordering java in Gabby’s inviting coffee shop. He next wakes up in a granite and steel prison cell, with only Howard, his AI minder, for company. Howard’s primary responsibility is to keep Lerner alive, but he is also programmed to defend himself if the prisoner gets destructive. Aside from maintenance requests, he is firewalled from the outside network, but Howard can still tell there was something dodgy about Lerner’s processing.

After breakfast, Lerner is zapped back into his head, but he has a reasonable degree of autonomy to change his actions and investigate his environment. It doesn’t always make sense that all this information would be imprinted on his subconscious, but it is such a heady head-trip, we just go with it anyway. There are elements of the coffee shop Lerner obsesses over, including Gabby, with whom he starts to carry on an unlikely romantic relationship. With her help, he will develop an escape plan, which will take on urgency when Lerner starts to suspect he has been abandoned to die in his cell.

Chamber is a really nifty science fiction chess game that dexterously exploits the claustrophobic nature of its limited sets and locations. As one of the smarter dystopian films in recent years, it is largely character driven, even though two of its three characters are not, in the strictest sense, human. In terms of motifs, it even bears some comparison to Nozim Tolahojayev’s animated short film adaptation of Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains.

As Lerner, Christopher Soren Kelly makes a refreshingly smart and humanistic everyman. He also forges some really terrific chemistry with Cassandra Clark, who is surprisingly poignant as Gabby. The circumstances are almost incredible, but their relationship feels real.

Milloy addresses some deep, sophisticated themes, but he always keeps viewers keenly aware of the ticking clock. Arguably, it represents the best sort of speculative fiction that does not require extravagant special effects to realize its vision. Very highly recommended, Infinity Chamber opens today (9/15) in Los Angeles, at the Arena Cinema.