As far as I’m concerned, the perfect blend of science fiction and film noir will and always will be Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Mine is hardly an original thought, but no matter how many times I watch the film or how many of the different versions I try out, it’s still a flat-out masterpiece that makes the plight of the artificial human a metaphor for the existential dread that actual humans experience on a regular basis, especially when the world around them feels like it’s closing in. The steamy, wet environments; the voiceover; and the neon lights barely cutting through the pitch black of the future world—they are all tropes basically invented or repackaged by Scott, and it’s been copied so many times, it’s impossible to keep track of how many other films have ripped off or paid homage to this movie.
The latest in this long line is Zone 414, the debut feature from Andrew Baird, a veteran music video director and production designer, taking a crack at directing a screenplay by Brian Edward Hill. The film concerns private investigator David Carmichael (Guy Pearce), hired by Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel), the creator of a shockingly lifelike race of humanoids who are only allowed to interact with real humans in a place called Zone 414, a seedy colony known affectionately as “the city of robots,” where every level of depravity can be explored for a price. Marlon’s only child, a daughter named Melissa (Holly Demaine) has gone missing in the zone, and looking to keep the incident quiet, Carmichael is hired to find her and bring her home. Marlon doesn’t want to open up a formal investigation, at the risk of drawing too much negative attention on his robots, which would impede his the business that goes on in the Zone.
Carmichael is actually approached first by Marlon’s brother Joseph (Jonathan Aris), an eccentric creep with an insatiable need to please his genius brother while burying his own ambitions, a place he seems all too happy to occupy. Once inside the Zone, Carmichael enlists the help of an anomalous humanoid named Jane (Matilda Lutz, the lead in the great film Revenge), your basic high-end pleasure bot who has somehow learned to experience full-on emotions, and it makes her fearful and self-destructive at times, especially when she finds out she’s being stalked. She knew the missing Melissa, who was in the Zone because she actually wished she’d been created a robot and thought being in this location would make her partly fulfill her wants.
Naturally, Carmichael begins to have feelings for Jane, and although he never loses sight of his primary mission, he also wants to assist Jane with her stalker problem. Pearce is the perfect choice for this largely underwritten role because he’s gifted enough to add nuance and darkness to the character. Carmichael’s past is, not surprisingly, grim, and we have to get through a whole lot of story to understand what makes him that way. But through his performance, Pearce lets us believe that certain secrets are worth waiting for (even when they aren’t). He’s been though a type of hell during his life, and the expediency and artful manner in which he solves mysteries.
The heart and soul of Zone 414 is the dynamic between Pearce and Lutz, mostly because of the way her character is programmed to respond to the smallest cues from humans (most often men, who are already easy to read). She’s an A.I. who has feelings, ambition and dreams, which she both embraces and is quite fearful of. Carmichael sees this in her and is cold-hearted enough to manipulate those parts of her that are more emotionally driven to help find Melissa’s location or at least find those who might know it.
The look of the film is modified Scott, and it works for the story being told even if it’s not quite as exciting to let ones eyes roam around the screen looking for fantastical production design details. The final act spirals a great deal to what I think is a fairly predictable conclusion, with very few of the film’s big reveals actually qualifying as revelatory. Still, the environments in Zone 414 are interesting and the story is enough of a curiosity to keep one engaged for its relatively short running time.
The film opens Friday in theaters and on VOD.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!