SXSW Film — DAY 5

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"Extracted"

Directed by Nir Paniry

Additional Screenings:  3/15 at 9:45 (Violet Crown)

It’s hard to really pin down what makes science fiction such a great genre, but the only thing every great sci-fi film has in common is a wonderful concept, and “Extracted” certainly has that. The film tells the story of Tom Jacobs (Sasha Roiz), an inventor who’s developed a machine that allows a person to enter their own memories. After an investor revealed to be a slimy corrections official requests that Tom prematurely test a prototype that allows him to go into the memories of others, particularly a prisoner with no memory of his crime. Predictably, something goes wrong, and four years later, Tom is festering away in the memories of Anthony (Dominic Bogart) while his body rests in a hospital bed.

“Extracted” is driven by its idea, and the film’s first moments, which show us the reality of Tom’s situation while cutting back to show us how he landed himself there, are engaging and visually interesting. Writer-director Nir Paniry does a great job visually mapping out the limitations of Tom’s invention, and he never lets his low budget betray his concept.

As “Extracted’s” intelligent script builds to a climax, Paniry manages to cook up a conclusion that’s legitimately suspenseful as well as unexpectedly moving, mostly thanks to Jenny Mollen’s sympathetic performance as Abbey, Tom’s wife. Roiz is likably desperate as a man trapped by his own invention, and Paniry’s script combines with a surprisingly human performance from Bogart to take Anthony from a worthless degenerate to a well-meaning screw-up.

There’s not much chance “Extracted” will join the pantheon of the all-time greatest sci-fi films, but it’s a feature debut from Nir Paniry that lets us get a look at a bold, singular voice and style, and I’ll certainly be watching to see what Paniry does next. With a bigger budget and another great idea, he could make something really special, and “Extracted” is hopefully the first of many intelligent, emotional films from Paniry.

"Compliance"

Directed by Craig Zobel

Additional Screenings: 3/15 at 10:00 (Violet Crown), 3/17 at 6:30 (Alamo Lamar)

“Compliance” drew a lot of flak when it premiered at Sundance, and after a packed house at the Stateside theater had an impressive number of walkouts, it’s clear why. The film is inspired by true events, and effectively draws audiences in to the story of a fast food manager (Ann Dowd) who’s convinced by a man posing as a police officer (Pat Healy) (over the phone, no less), to interrogate, detain, and do lasting psychological damage to an employee (Deanna Walker) seemingly suspected of stealing.

There’s a lot “Compliance” does well, and the first of these things is its script. Pat Healy’s “Officer Daniels” is exquisitely written, an undeniably convincing master manipulator, and Healy veers away from portraying Daniels as a sinister villain, instead giving us a look at a man pulling a twisted prank because he doesn’t seem to have anything better to do. Deanna Walker is wonderfully helpless as an employee getting slowly sucked in over her head, and the empty betrayal in her eyes as things get worse and worse is perhaps the most disturbing thing in “Compliance.”

Writer-director Craig Zobel may not be universally adored after “Compliance,” but there’s no denying he’s done an even-handed, smartly restrained job here. The film is never sleazy or exploitative, and the film’s most horrible moment is thankfully glossed over, yet Zobel does a great job getting under the audience’s film and almost making them feel complicit in this poor girl’s peril. The film is fascinating as an examination of what we’ll do simply because we’re following orders, and once someone finally speaks up, you almost want to applaud. “Compliance” is not an easy film to get through, and it’s even harder to forget, but it’s an incredibly effective social experiment, and worth checking out for the strong-willed.

"Intruders"

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Additional Screenings: 3/14 at 2:00 (Alamo Lamar), 3/15 at 11:30 pm (Alamo Ritz)

Before last night’s screening of “Intruders,” director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo had some very insightful thoughts about his inspiration for the movie, especially about the way secrets, when left to fester, can turn into nightmares. “Intruders” seems, above all else, an interesting way for Fresnadillo to work out some very personal issues onscreen, but the film is a disaster in almost every way.

The film’s concept is really promising, focusing around Hollowface, a monster who waits in children’s bedrooms while they sleep for the perfect moment to steal their face. Hollowface visits two children on different sides of the world, Juan (Izan Corchero) and Mia (Ella Purnell), and their parents struggle to deal with this nightmarish presence in their home.

Clive Owen stars as Mia’s father, and he’s really the lynchpin of the film. Many of the most effective moments in the film are bolstered by the terror in Owen’s gaunt, sunken face, but Ella Purnell also manages to make us care about her plight. Fresnadillo does a few things right, most notably capturing the way imagination can overwhelm you in the night. Even so, “Intruders” is high on intensity but severely lacking in legitimate scares.

The film truly falls apart in its final act. “Intruders” throws two twists at the audience in its closing moments, and while the first shines a light on an effective but illogical story detail, the second is a massive miscalculation, an affront to the film’s plot, characters, and especially audience, and undermines any sense of tension the film had up to that point. “Intruders” is a failure as a horror movie, as a family drama, and as a compelling narrative, and hopefully the undeniably talented people involved find a better outlet and script next time.