Monday, October 15, 2018

BHFF Review: Empathy Inc.

Reporting from the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival this week! 

"I've seen the future, baby, it is murder," cooed Leonard Cohen one time, and sci-fi filmmakers (not to mention climate change scientists) have been taking up the slack ever since. The dream of decent technology is dead; we're all sticking wires straight in our veins now in the place of heroin needles. Make me somebody else, our mantra - we're wandering a hall of black mirrors, No Exit signs blinking. Yedidya Gorsetman's dark and twisted Empathy Inc. takes that idea and perverts it in thrilling and elliptically sinister ways.

Joel (Zack Robidas) has just had his professional world crash down around him. His tech bubble's burst, sending him and his wife Jessica (Kathy Searle), an unemployed actress, home to crash with her folks for a minute; long enough for him to re-group. While down on his luck and weak at the edges in swings an old friend (Eric Berryman) with a new technology for sale - he calls it XVR (in the parlance of a Mountain Dew commercial, that is Extreme Virtual Reality), which allows the user to John-Malkovich-like enter into the head-space of a less fortunate individual (a poor, as the saying goes) in order to make the user realize that hey, it could be worse.

It's not exactly a shock that this turns out badly for everybody involved - the stark black-and-white cinematography a la early Aronofsky makes that clear from the get-go. You don't get any start middle or end of the rainbows in this place. What does come as a surprise though is how methodically Gorsetman unravels his realities - as identities begin shifting the flick becomes an unnerving treatise on not just the expected ethics-in-technology topics but on selfhood in the digital age, too. When you can put on anybody's face it's probable you might misplace your own at some point.

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