Tuesday, March 07, 2023

The Stratum, on DVD

This sort-of-near-future world is sort of like Elysium, but with catfishing. However, you have to give hacker James Walsh credit. He is actually more than he presents himself to be. He looks exactly like his avatar, but he is a real person instead on AI. Unfortunately, his overtures to a lonely satellite resident might undermine her efforts to save humanity in Crash Buist’s The Stratum, which releases today on VOD and DVD.

The Peoples’ Terrorists, or whatever they call themselves, blame Gatesian oligarch William Wright and his company for all the ills in the world. When the even-worse-Covid hit, he ferried those who could pay to the safety of his Satellite of love. However, his secret daughter Ayla was inconveniently allergic to the life-support systems. Instead, she needed her own hermitically sealed capsule.

With all that free time, she created art and possibly discovered the formula for clean cold fusion. She is lonely though, so she talks to Walsh when he injects his avatar into her VR workshop, posing as an AI sent by her father.

That was not part of the original plan. Edgar Bane, self-proclaimed general of the Peoples Extremists hired him to hack Wright Corp. As he was touring through their system, he stumbled into Ayla’s virtual realm. While drawing out intel from her, Walsh starts to fall for the cyber-punk princess, so he takes exception to Bane’s “revolutionary” plans for her.

The Stratum was shot for less money than it would cost too buy two dozen Dunkin Donuts for your next office breakfast. However, co-screen-writing co-stars Buist and Lauren Senechal have sketched some interesting ideas in here. The “courtship” between Walsh (in his AI guise) and Wright works surprisingly well. The violent extremism of the Peoples’ Army is also highly realistic and all too believable (regrettably). Bane’s big plan is simply horrific. Yet, perhaps the film’s cleverest element is the crazy “Buddha” AI persona that manages the underground tech “Red Box” vending system.

Buist and Walsh have some decent chemistry and Jonathan Medina is appropriately sinister as Bane. Unfortunately, Ramin Karimloo is neither sufficiently villainous or charismatic in a Gordon Gekko kind of way, which makes William Wright disappointingly blah. Nevertheless, the small ensemble over-delivers impressively.

This is definitely a DIY-underdog of a science fiction film, but it manages to punch well above its weight. It is not the crude class-warfare screed it initially signals. It is smarter than that. Worth streaming if it ever pops up on one of your video services,
The Stratum releases today (3/7) on DVD.