– By MovieCritic NextDoor
Somewhere, inside the strangest power facility you’ve ever seen, a worker named Elliot (Joshua Coffy) slaves over keeping things running smoothly. The word ‘slaves’ isn’t an exaggeration — for example, the food he’s given is clearly meant only to keep him alive since it looks disgusting, and I highly doubt he’s ever allowed to leave on vacation. He’s constantly on call, with an AI called Face (Robert Pristine Condition Gammel) continually notifying him of the latest malfunction.
Since the “machines” are mainly living creatures of some kind, I can only presume that the power is being generated by electric eels or similar, and the critters require a good deal of attention. The only breaks poor Elliot gets are when he can plug in to his VR device, where he can be his “perfect self” (Craig Jacobson). There, he lives in a slightly less grubby version of his actual home, with a hero-worshipping butler (Jay Sosnicki) to tend to Elliot’s every whim, though the food doesn’t look much better. He’s probably never seen anything that’s actually good to eat.
Through his VR gadget, he can experience all the things he misses in life, including pretty dancing girls (Anna Muravitskaya and Phoebe Osborne). But each time he’s rudely pulled out of his fantasy world, he seems more and more desperate and distressed. Intimidating sentries appear from nowhere to watch him, and they all look vaguely disappointed with him. Elliot himself doesn’t seem to know what they want, except to frighten him.
Things only seem to be getting steadily worse for the poor guy. Then — whether through a strange VR malfunction or simply a manifestation of Elliot’s slowly crumbling sanity — he meets Bianca (Cassandra Sechler) in a place that’s neither his real-life surroundings nor his virtual world, and he feels hope, probably for the first time.
There’s a look to the film that’s much like a low-budget 80’s sci-fi, or possibly a really dark episode of Peter Davison era Doctor Who that the BBC didn’t dare show. It’s odd, but good for portraying the sense of deep despair Elliot lives with. It was a bit like watching a human-scale anthill with Elliot as the only worker ant. If the beings he encounters are representative of his subconscious, then he clearly needs psychiatric help, because his subconscious must hate him.
The plot is fairly thin, but as a study of the effects of grinding, repetitive work with little reward or comfort it does an excellent job. Now I’m depressed over the entire concept of working for a living. But it isn’t meant to be a cheery movie. Certainly you can’t help but feel sorry for Elliot, who’s practically a superhero in his dream-world, but an overwhelmed, often frightened, deeply lonely man in reality, and the film shows this contrast very well. It’s an extremely quirky movie — most of the characters’ faces are hidden behind strange headgear, for example, and the dialogue is as dreamlike as nearly everything else — and it isn’t for everyone, but it’s an interesting concept and underneath the strangeness are ideas we can all relate to.