Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Philip K. Dick ’16: The Incident

That copy of Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint could come in handy for Carlos. While his situation is somewhat different, it could help him think about reality in more outside-the-box terms (it also made his film a perfect selection for this year’s Philip K. Dick Film Festival). At the very least, it will help pass the time. Rather than a box or a Potemkin world, Carlos is stuck in an infinite staircase. He is not the only one facing such a predicament in Isaac Ezban’s The Incident (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Philip K. Dick Film Festival in New York.

The corrupt cop was leading Carlos and his brother Oliver out through his building’s staircase when they heard the bang. At that point, the stairs became endless Escher loop. They walk down nine flights and find themselves right back at the ninth floor landing. Needless to say, the doors are sealed, but the vending machine mysteriously keeps replenishing itself. The situation would be dire enough, but the copper, acting on a perverse impulse, shot Oliver in the leg right before the happening. Soon the festering wound becomes life-threatening.

Meanwhile or something, Daniel is on a road trip with his mother, her trying too hard boyfriend, and his little sister, but that highway never seems to end—because it won’t. There is an empty service station that never runs out of supplies, but they do not carry asthma inhalers. Unfortunately, Daniel’s sister will be needing one after hers is damaged. These two cosmically closed loops do not appear to be related, except for the occasional hint suggesting they really are.

There are no significant visual effects to speak of in The Incident, but it is a wildly ambitious, decade-spanning, mind-reeling genre film. It starts out merely unsettling in a Sartre kind of way, but it turns into a deeper, metaphysical horror show. Reportedly, some fans of the show Lost find various hat-tips throughout the film. Whether they are intentional or not, The Incident is certainly in keeping with the show’s spirit (whereas it is wholly dissimilar from M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening).

Considering the circumstances, The Incident boasts a surprisingly large cast. Nobody really stands out per se, because the entire ensemble is convincingly freaked out and then bitterly resigned to their fate. Essentially, they look like real people in some kind of Hell (but it isn’t really, or is it?).

Ezban tries to connect too many dots in the third act, but that is a rather valiant mistake. Regardless, he announces himself as a major new talent with The Incident, while also providing a heck of a calling card for his design team. This is a painstakingly crafted film that masterfully controls what the audience sees and the temporary assumptions they form. Pretty impressive stuff, recommended for fans of Lost and David Lynch’s better mind-trips, The Incident screens this Friday (1/15) at the Cinema Village, as part of this year’s Philip K. Dick Film Festival.