Since at least Robert Louis Stevenson’s landmark novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, horror has plumbed the depths of the human psyche, finding the monsters that live inside each of us rather that some shambling thing from a bog or closet. Of course, legends of werewolves and even possessions reflecting this fear of the evils that just may lie within us far precedes Stevenson’s work; suffice to say, the idea of a monster you can’t hide from, that the most deadly evil is the one hiding in the most devilish of places — ourselves — is a longstanding trope of the art form. Over the years, we’ve seen it played out in multiple adaptations of Jekyll & Hyde, along with lycanthropes, alien influence, and even more earthly manifestations like split personalities (Psycho, Sisters, and many others). As these examples show, the evil in a person can manifest itself in many ways, from the supernatural to the completely natural (but equally horrifying) reality of runaway mental illness — sometimes, it’s caused by the machinations of an alien intelligence (either extraterrestrial or supernatural), and sometimes, it’s a scientific experiment gone awry.
The freshman feature of Matthew T. Price, Other Halves, suggests that perhaps the beast within could be released by simply removing the safeguards of conscience and societal norms — and this is accomplished in a provocative fashion by the very tech that we all take for granted every day…
A team of five tech developers have hit upon what they think will be the next big thing in online dating — Other Halves, an app that analyzes your online activity, compiles a history of your interests, and finds you a perfectly compatible partner based on this data — well, at least that’s the theory. This eclectic group consists of Devon, the perky, nerd-sexy coder, Jana, the German girl who’s the lead on the programming, Shawn, analyst and troubleshooter, Beth, the graphics specialist, and Jasmine, the edgy but brilliant de facto leader of the group.
On the eve of the apps launch, the group is pulling an all-nighter at the office to work out any bugs that still remain in the programming, and tensions are high — not even Beth’s hunky boyfriend showing up with home-baked treats seems to lighten the mood, and all is made even worse with the arrival of Elle (whom we find out was originally one of the team that left under bad circumstances), staking a claim to authorship of the app. This atmosphere of stress and hard feelings isn’t the worst of the night to come, however; Jasmine has learned that there is a particular effect of the app, one that they never dreamt of when they were designing the program…an effect that she feels can set people free from their “societal norms” and “guilt trips” by bringing out their repressed natures and desires — indeed their “other halves” — but the visceral, bloody by-product of such freedom is about to spill out on the development team itself…
I have to say this indie film surprised me; I knew from the press I read that it had influences from the old giallo films, ’80s slashers, and maybe just a touch of David Cronenberg — however, I was still impressed by the way these first-timers structured their story. The narrative follows two timelines, one current and one in the past, blending the two in an effective manner that took some skill in both writing and editing. I won’t say it was flawless, but considering these are fledgling filmmakers, I’m pretty sure I got the emotional effect of this structuring that they wanted me to get…so that’s a win, even if it’s not the cleanest one. I found the acting to range from serviceable to very good, the actors acquitting themselves very well even with some awkward dialogue. I especially enjoyed Lauren Lakis’ turn as Devon and Mercedes Manning as Jasmine; each played opposite sides of the same coin, and their friendship seemed very natural and realistic, whilst their differences played very well in the context of the story — that’s not to say that the rest of the cast didn’t also impress, it was just that this dynamic between the two leads was so important to the overall arc.
The script itself, other than the aforementioned awkwardness in some of the lines, was technical enough to sound legit, but not so much as to lose the average filmgoer in it’s layers. The film even makes a self-referential joke about a particular trope used in many “computer” films. Relying mostly on the giallo stalker angle for it’s building of terror, the film doesn’t have a lot of expositional effects — you do get to see a goodly amount of the red stuff, just not so much where it came from.
For all of this, the film does have it’s issues — the structure I talked about sometimes seems to lose it’s way, and if you aren’t careful you may find that you’re unsure what just happened. I feel that may have been the intent, at least some of the time, but it can be a little confusing in the latter half of the film. Still, it could be seen as a benefit of sorts, putting the audience in the same state of confusion that the characters find themselves in, but in my case, it left me a bit cold a couple of times. Also, the ending went off on a tangent that didn’t quite fit in my mind, but it wasn’t enough of a push-out to ruin the movie. Looking at it as a horror film, I have to say I was a little disappointed in the lack of any real scares — there’s some good, suspenseful atmosphere created, and a compelling story with interesting characters, but the payoff wasn’t really anything that would have you glancing over your shoulder in a dark parking garage.
Finally, I have to say that this is a film that pushes a satirical look at our dependence on technology, but also at gender roles, turning them on their heads — the driving force of the app is a female team, and the males in the film are either there for eye candy or comic relief — hell, one even brings baked goods and spends his time being ogled. Given this, there is a lot of nudity and sexuality, but I didn’t find it gratuitous in the context of the film.
Whereas I can see where the flick won’t appeal to everyone, and despite that fact that the horror fan in me was left a little hungry, I still enjoyed it. Despite it’s weaknesses, I found the combination of horror, sci-fi, and the psychological examination of we humans to be an entertaining watch.
Gimme three pennies for a nickel.
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