Thursday 9 April 2020

Review: Empathy Inc

If you have a bad day at work what do you do to turn it around? Vent to the wife? A swift half with the lads? Switch on the PlayStation and shout horrible slurs at 14-year olds? I’m sure we all have our ways of dealing with having an absolute mare. In case of venture capitalist Joel, whose multimillion deal has just gone the way of Orlando Bloom’s character’s in Elizabethtown (2005), things go beyond your usual hectic day at the office.

Forcibly moved in with his nightmare in-laws and with hardly a penny to his name, Joel (Zack Robidas) is in dire straits. That is until he meets an old friend with a fancy new scheme in the line of VR. What if you spend some time in someone else’s shoes? Someone who’s life is less than fortunate? Would that place your issues into perspective? Thus, the conceit is born. A VR system that places you in the shoes of someone who is desolate. By doing so, your hang-ups will become more manageable. And all those proverbs and maxims people like to band about would be justified.

It all seems too good to be true in Empathy Inc, the lo-fi, sci-fi head spinner from Yedidya Gorsetman. Of course, it certainly is, as the little bit greedy and all to nosy Joel soon finds out. With a conceit that feels a little bit Primer (2004) and noir style black and white that couldn’t help but remind me of Darren Aronofsky’s debut Pi (1998), Empathy Inc is the kind of askew, oddity that you’d use to find late nights on the weekend when terrestrial tele was our media gods and you were never quite sure if you saw what you watched or dreamed it. Safe to say, trying to tell your wife or the lads over a swift half about this flick may get you some strange looks.

It’s also safe to say that this is a very confident piece of filmmaking from a film that is seeing how resourceful it can be while on a very limited budget. It’s lack of expansive or varied locations not only keeps the focus on the characters but gives the entire film an inescapable, hemmed in vibe. It’s also notable that while the film is limited in funds the film's compositions and transitions highlight an eye for the cinematic.

Drenched in punchy black and white, giving the whole exercise a touch of the noir to its sci-fi leanings, Empathy Inc’s strengths lie in its simplicity. The film gives us just enough of its lofty idea to make the story compelling. The characters may be broad, but they’re never flat. Although the actors struggle with the tasks given as the film ramps up the tempo and twists later in the film. While Empathy Inc toys with deeper themes of haves and have nots, corrupt corporate investors and the identity of the self, it’s far more at home as being a moderately thrilling sci-fi that would fit comfortably on the same shelf as the films of Shaun Carruth. Although it may not get as far under the skin.

Empathy Inc is available now on VOD via Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube