SXSW Film Review – Extracted
Extracted (2012) is a slick, well-made independent sci-fi film that works well in some ways and not so well in others. The beautiful thing about the sci-fi genre is that it allows filmmakers to open their creative reservoirs and build new worlds and explore a vast array of possibilities. You can do just about anything you want if you make a sci-fi movie—which had me wondering: if the genre allows for anything to happen, why do filmmakers so often delve into the same kind of material that has been done before? Perhaps it’s more of an insurance thing—whatever has worked once will most likely work again. This is what we are faced with in writer/director Nir Paniry’s film. There is no doubt that there is promising talent at play with this project, but at the same time, the film doesn’t give us anything beyond what we’ve already seen.
The story revolves around two characters. The first is a scientist named Tom (Sasha Roiz). Tom has made an astonishing breakthrough and has created a machine that can have people implant their own subconscious into the memories of other people. They can see and experience what other people have lived through. At first, Tom develops this technology in the hopes of making progress in the health care world, but government officials, after gaining word of Tom’s abilities, decide to offer him money to switch the purpose to their own needs. This involves entering the minds of criminals. Enter main character number two, Anthony (Dominic Bogart). Anthony is a convict in jail for a brutal murder, and authorities hope that Tom’s machine can peer into Anthony’s memories and finally prove once and for all that he was the culprit.
Playing with memory and reality is a tried and true element in the sci-fi world, and while I was watching this movie, I started to name off all the other films that this one resembles. The list includes titles such as The Matrix (1999), The Cell (2000), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), and Inception (2010). The ingredients are all there, including the fancy gizmos that connect all around a subject’s head, the jumping around and flashing of different moments in time, and, of course, the usual questions involving whether or not what we’re seeing is in fact real or imaginary. Which makes it unsurprising that, after an accident occurs during the procedure, Tom finds himself trapped inside of the mind of Anthony, reliving his memories over and over again. That must be a terrible position to be stuck in. Not only is Tom unable to escape the world of memories, the memories he has to go through aren’t even his own—and even worse than that, they’re the memories of a drug user and convicted murderer! That’s like having to watch the same depressing movie again and again and again, without ever having the ability to change the channel.
As one of the main leads, Dominic Bogart has the more interesting role, and fills it with a very fine performance. He plays panicked, scared, and desperate to full effect here. Anthony, while being in jail for murder, is convinced that he didn’t do it, and does whatever he can to fix the details of the crime in his head and prove his innocence. Sure, he has done bad things, but believes that he isn’t the kind of person who could commit such a terrible act. Sasha Roiz, unfortunately, has the more thankless acting job. Tom, compared to Anthony, is a fairly flat character. Not to say that Roiz’s performance is bad, but there is simply not enough meat there to garner much interest. He is a straight arrow compared to the unpredictability of the loose cannon Anthony. Tom only goes along with the experiment due to his financial need to support his family, but because of that he pretty much digs his own grave. He jumps headfirst into his work without analyzing the potential risks, even to the point of accepting monetary backing without knowing who the sponsor is, which makes me think that he isn’t as smart as the film tries to portray him to be.
I realize that in this genre, there’s a level of acceptance one needs to have. Knowing that what is happening on screen is impossible, we have to lift our disbelief and go along with what the story is giving us. However, I don’t believe the film gives us enough foundation to firmly stand on and run with. I found myself with too many questions as to how the logic of the world works. How exactly is Tom stuck in the mind of Anthony, and why is it that he can’t return to his own body when they break the connection? Is Tom’s subconscious somehow separate from himself? If Tom is now a “part” of Anthony’s head, then how can he still communicate with the computer, Minnie (Sara Tomko), and travel to any part of Anthony’s memories as if he still had a level of control? At one point, I started chuckling when Anthony started speaking with Tom in his head, looking a bit silly as if he were talking to himself. The script tries to explain all this with the mention of injected computer chips and such, but it felt clunky and overburdened with scientific mumbo jumbo, which I did not entirely buy in to, no matter how hard I tried.
Perhaps Extracted would have been a better movie if it had focused a little more on equal character development and a little less on the sci-fi elements. The best parts of the film are when we learn about Anthony and his upbringing, especially his relationship with his father. If we had seen more of Tom’s background, and if there was a deeper urgency for him to go ahead with his experiment, then maybe I would have been more invested in him trying to escape his predicament. Tom’s relationship with his wife Abbey (Jenny Mollen) gets pushed to the wayside, a definite missed opportunity for better insight into their lives. When the film delves into the special effects, the jumping around in time, and the manipulation of memory and reality, it starts to falter. It goes for a scene or two too long, and settles for a cheap plot twist and an unnecessarily ambiguous ending. Sure, the movie definitely looks good, and is fairly efficient as a low budget thriller, but I wanted this movie to push further than what it ended up being, if only because I can see the potential it had to get there.
Final Grade: B-