The Movie Waffler New Release Review (DVD/VOD) - IDENTICALS | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (DVD/VOD) - IDENTICALS

A young man investigates the abduction of his girlfriend by an assailant wearing her face.

Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Simon Pummell

Starring: Lachlan Nieboer, Nora-Jane Noone, Nick Blood, Tony Way

Unlike the life donors it portrays, Identicals may not be perfect, but at least it aspires towards something better: a science fiction that is both thoughtful and stylishly idiosyncratic.

Ever get that feeling when you’re at a party - a great party too, beautiful people, top tunes, cheese and pineapple sticks in the buffet etc - but there’s this stubborn unease, this badgering notion, that somewhere else, maybe across town, maybe in the next street, there’s an even better party going on, one that you haven’t been invited to? Recognise that sense of dissatisfaction; that even when situations are going ostensibly well, there’s this sensation that things could be better?

Entire industries depend on the social anxieties of their audiences - it’s as if we’re conditioned to feel unimpressed at our lot. No revelations here, even in the mid-sixties, old Mick Jagger was berating commercialism, yelping that he couldn’t get no satisfaction (and him such a posh lad too). An abiding principle of advertising has always been to exploit a person’s sense of status, but social media engenders and amplifies this self-doubt. When we present ourselves on twitter or Instagram, we’re selecting, editing, filtering; manufacturing a version of us that we hope will be impressive to others, perhaps presenting the version of ourselves that we would rather be. Slyly acknowledging this endemic diffidence, Identicals opens with a disembodied CGI face upon a screen, reminding the listener, in robotic intonation, that their life is not what it should be, that they’d be much more fulfilled being a different version of themselves, or, indeed, being someone else entirely. Thus the principles for ‘Brand New-U’ are explained, an organisation that identifies ‘Identicals’: individuals that physically resemble the customer, but who are living more exciting, glamorous lives. Once Brand New-U are employed, they set forth and eliminate the ‘better life donor’, and, after a little nip/tuck and some palliative brainwashing, upgrade their discontented client to the vacated existence. And you thought Amazon’s tax avoidance was unethical!

After a romantic evening in, Slater (Lachlan Nieboer) and his girlfriend Nadia (Nora-Jane Noone - who, without wishing to be boorish, with her manga eyes and piercing gaze, anyone would wish to swap faces with) have their night spoiled when a group of masked intruders break in and abduct Nadia. A struggle ensues, and, just as the kidnappers are getting away, Slater manages to fell one of the assailants. Alone in the tastefully lit flat, the sound of tyres screeching in the distance, he peels away the ski mask of the intruder… it turns out that she has Nadia’s face. Yikes!

Surmising that Brand New-U are behind the abduction, Slater himself decides to undergo the procedure, although it isn’t that he has much choice: the police are fingering the poor lad for what they perceive as Nadia’s murder. A tenement of the Brand New-U procedure is that clients forgo their previous existence, but Slater, determined to locate Nadia, has other plans. Incurring the ire of the sinister corporation, soon the police are the least of Slater’s worries.

Identicals is certainly sumptuous to look at. Writer/Director Simon Pummell never wastes a shot, and in his hands, near-future London is a city slickly gilded with woozy lighting and paranoid shadows. Glass and steel edifices make up living and work space, while airborne drones monitor the populace who shift and shrink within the noirish setting. The future is hard; all surface, no feeling. However, although it establishes dystopia effectively, this impressionistic style is often employed at the expense of the film’s pacing. For example, when Slater first rings up Brand New-U, there’s a montage of him muttering ‘I’m listening’, while the voice at the end of the line asks ‘Are you listening?’, over and over; a glitchy Mobius interrogation which may well be construed to engender panic, but actually just makes it seem as if the line is bad. Later, as one of the many dopplegangers that complicate the film, Slater looks into the mirror, which cuts to several different angles for what seems like ages: because identity. Consequently, the film’s atmosphere drifts between enigmatic and estranging, from Kafka-esque to confusing. A second watch as I’m writing this makes the film a little clearer, but I’m still not convinced of the film’s coherence.

Like Strange Days, Ex Machina and Total Recall, Identicals interfaces tech and humanity, exploring the increasing nexus between both. However, fittingly for a film about clones, Identicals has its very own donor in the form of Vertigo, Hitchcock’s peerless meditation on confused (and confusing) identity and love, an influence that is freely copped to with IdenticalsBernard Herrmann-a-like score and Nadia’s final incarnation as a bottle blonde femme fatale. Like Vertigo too, Identicals’ plot points may not bare close scrutiny, but its ambition is difficult to deny. Unlike the life donors it portrays, Identicals may not be perfect, but at least it aspires towards something better: a science fiction that is both thoughtful and stylishly idiosyncratic.

Identicals is available on Digital/VoD 15th August and DVD 22nd August.