Synopsis – Set in the near future, private detective David Carmichael is hired by Marlon Veidt, an eccentric businessman, to track down his missing daughter. David teams up with Jane, a highly advanced A.I. to solve the mystery.
My Take – Since its release in 1982, filmmaker Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has been the source of influence for so many productions that it is virtually impossible to keep track of. With its dystopian setting an example of how dreaded, dark and rainy the future world may look like, the masterpiece, which is often considered as the perfect blend of science fiction and film noir, has undeniably influenced science fiction story telling in general especially the ones based on human and machine interactions, as well as discussions regarding the importance and threat of A.I. in general.
The latest in this long line of homages/rip-offs is this debut feature from Andrew Baird, a veteran music video director and production designer, who is directing a screenplay by Brian Edward Hill. Budgeted at just $5 million, this indie science fiction noir seemed to have set reasonable goals for itself with the help of a curiosity inducing story, backed by some fantastical production design, to keep one engaged for its relatively short running time, and meeting them in a workmanlike fashion.
But the ways it lifts from both the Blade Runner films, borrowing elements from its characters, costumes and themes, it denies the film identifiable or entertaining qualities of its own to the point that inspiration becomes mindless duplication, with the characters especially appearing as mere shadows of the acclaimed original and its 2017 sequel.
It also doesn’t help that the film is backed by an underwritten script which barely keeps afloat with its oft-repeated clichés in the first act, and then spirals a great deal towards a fairly predictable conclusion, with none of the films big reveals actually qualifying as revelatory.
It is unfortunate that despite its great potential director Baird’s film fails to add anything new to the sub-genre and just collapses under pressure.
Set in the near future, the story follows David Carmichael (Guy Pearce), a washed-up detective turned private investigator, who is employed by Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel), an eccentric billionaire, to find his runaway daughter Melissa (Holly Demaine), who is hiding somewhere in Zone 414, an experimental urban district populated by Veidt’s race of lifelike androids and the super-rich customers who pay for the pleasure of their company, and bring her back.
Once he enters David has to first seek out Melissa’s friend, Jane (Matilda Lutz), Veidt’s most advanced synthetic, to help him navigate the Zone’s seedy underbelly. Together, David and Jane follow Melissa’s trail to deeper and darker places in the Zone haunted by creepy rich weirdos. Complicating matters is David’s feelings toward Jane, forcing him to reconsider his initial dismissal of synthetics as not human enough to deserve his empathy or help.
Beginning with a jarring, unnerving introduction that tips quickly into genre territory, the plot sets itself as a classic film noir with sci-fi elements. Ultimately, this is a film built around a premise, but without all of the necessary ideas to transform that premise into an actual story. And to say the script by Bryan Edward Hill is uneventful would be an understatement.
While ostensibly a detective story, the central mystery, Melissa’s disappearance, is often back grounded in favor of a rotating cycle of scenes between Jane and David. They venture to a few shady places and meet equally dubious people but nothing of substance occurs. Every scene is about mood and lighting and the interior lives of characters we don’t care enough to investigate quite so closely instead of the missing person’s case that is supposed to propel the plot forward. There’s little action, and even less room for Pearce to be the charismatic force we know he can be.
Unsurprisingly, the central theme of the film is violence against women, both human and synthetic, which is manifested via casual carelessness and needless sequences of torture and subjection that serve no meaningful purpose.
Here, director Baird cuts back and forth between the film’s primary plot and first-person shots of abuse of a woman that looks like it came from a snuff film. He includes an unnecessary scene featuring topless women, to needlessly reiterate the established plot point that the story’s synthetic humans are primarily used as sex slaves.
Also aside from questions concerning ethical relativism and what constitutes a human being, the film fails to dive deeper into the intricacies of its narrative strands, neglecting to add its specific components to an entirely borrowed tale.
This could have been an effective examination of man’s inhumanity as opposed to androids whose only desire is to be human. Hence, what the film ends up being is something that meanders, when it shouldn’t; certainly there’s something to admire about being bold enough to rip off one of the best science fiction films of all time, but if you’re going to try and take everything that works in Blade Runner and make something new with it, then at least make sure that it’s not a drag.
Performances wise, Guy Pearce, who oscillates between prestige and B-films more than any other actor, is good as always, but is letdown by a character that is store-bought archetype. Travis Fimmel’s performance as the ghoulish billionaire Marlon Veidt is so broadly weird that it becomes distracting. Jonathan Aris effectively plays the creepy villain. However, the real star of the show is Matilda Lutz, who gets about equal screen time with Pearce and does a lot more with it.
In other roles, Antonia Campbell Hughes, Colin Salmon, Holly Demaine, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Jorin Cooke, and Olwen Fouere are wasted. On the whole, ‘Zone 414’ is a derivative, unengaging and unoriginal science fiction thriller that struggles to rise above being an abysmal rip off.
Directed – Andrew Baird
Rated – R
Run Time – 100 minutes