31 Days, Day 15 – BHFF 2018: EMPATHY INC is BEING JOHN MALKOVICH for the BLACK MIRROR Crowd
Imagine the quirky premise of the Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman neo-classic Being John Malkovich, but replace the laughs with sheer terror and put it in the dark technologically advanced world of Black Mirror. This is essentially what Empathy Inc. promises and delivers. The sophomore feature from Yedidya Gorsetman, and his first foray into the horror and thriller genres, is a horrifying glimpse into what man is capable of and willing to do.
Matt Barone of BHFF described the film over at the festival’s site:
In the “high risk, high reward” world of venture capitalists, rising star Joel lets it all ride on a deal that, sadly for he and his actress wife, painfully falls apart, leaving him with no other choice than to move in with his wife’s parents for financial reasons. Feeling like a huge failure, Joel unexpectedly finds some hope via a run-in with an old friend, whose business partner asks Joel to invest in a new experiential technology called XVR, or Xtreme Virtual Reality, the latest product of which allows wealthy folks to see life through the eyes of the less fortunate. Unfortunately for Joel, XVR’s makers’ intentions aren’t what they seem.
This is that type of lo-fi, hard sci-fi that is sparse on visuals and grandiose in ideas. The premise and the characters drive what is essentially a black and white film devoid of special effects. It’s well shot, with a focus on the characters and their development. The terror of the film is centered around the technology at its core that is clearly not what it seems from the moment we get to experience it as the viewer.
It slowly builds as Joel, the main character mentioned in the above plot summary, begins to unravel what exactly is going on. As he discovers more, the truth is far more horrifying than he had believed. It is at that point that things get darker and darker, ultimately getting to a frenetic boiling point where everything goes insane.
Perhaps it’s the black and white tones, or maybe it’s something more that I haven’t put my finger on, but at its climax, the film reminds me of Darren Aronofsky’s Pi. What is essentially a lengthier Black Mirror episode, this film certainly packs a punch as a cautionary tale. It’s not perfect by any means, but for a sophomore project from a young director, it surely screams of strong potential. I really enjoyed this film and am so excited for Yedidya Gorsetman’s next project.