Monday, April 11, 2016

Prisoner X: Terrorism and Time Travel

In the near future, Islamic Jihadists are even more dangerous than they are now, especially those that come from the future. Ninety-nine jihadists led by a shadowy mastermind code-named Abraham have come back in time to use their knowledge to wreak havoc on the Western world. The CIA has captured one of them, but interrogating him will be a tricky business in director-screenwriter Gaurev Seth’s Prisoner X (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Toronto.

Thanks to his nano-implants, the mysterious Ramiro is highly resistant to traditional forms of enhanced interrogation, but he might be willing to talk if the government is willing to accommodate him. His detailed knowledge of “future” events convinces Agent Fischer he is indeed who and what he claims to be. Unfortunately, Ramiro is rather cagey about what he chooses to reveal and his general trustworthiness remains in doubt.

To help him manage the time traveler, Fischer has the POTUS reactivate his retired former lover, CIA Agent Carmen Reese. However, Fischer unexpectedly kills himself by the time she reaches the subterranean military prison dubbed the “Sandbox.” Reese’s investigation of the murky circumstances surrounding the suicide lead to questions about Jefferson, the prison commandant, as well as Ramiro.

Seth’s adaptation of Robert Reed’s Hugo nominated novella “Truth” is unusual in the way it de-emphasizes the usual motifs of time travel science fiction (Butterfly Effects and the like) in favor of more apocalyptic concerns. Despite Fischer’s efforts, Abraham the other ninety-seven jihadists have brought the world to the brink of Armageddon. America has already suffered more nuclear attacks than during the entire run of 24. The stakes are high and time is running low.

Michelle Nolden is appealingly smart and no-nonsense as Agent Reese. Granted, her character has an amply tragic backstory, but she carries herself with the kind of confidence you would hope to see in a CIA Agent trying to prevent Doomsday. Her presence and nuance nicely anchors the film. Cult actor Julian Richings (Ejecta and Patch Town) also does some of his best work in recent years as suspicious Jefferson. Problematically, Romano Orzari’s Ramiro is a little light in the brooding intensity department, but the ominous double-secret prison backdrop helps to compensate.

Seth keeps the film tight, tense, and claustrophobic, while his adaptation of Reed’s novella gets very big picture, while maintaining the intimate vibe. He effectively hides some twists in plain sight, ultimately building to a dramatic but logically consistent conclusion. Altogether, it is an excellent example of indie science fiction. Sadly, a U.S. release day has yet to be announced for Prisoner X, but it opens this Friday (4/15) at the Magic Lantern Carlton Cinema in Toronto.