Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Distorted (2018)

Warning: I’m going the way of the spoiler!

After losing their child in a bathtub incident - something which the film inexplicably will later play as a revelation even though having used many a shot of a sad rubber duck in an empty bathtub and having shown our heroine acting weirdly around children again and again – the marriage of Lauren (Christina Ricci) and Russell (Brendan Fletcher) is understandably strained. Lauren in particular has developed manic depression, with a sideline in paranoid delusions and hallucinations.

It seems best for the two to move out of the apartment where their kid died. As luck will have it, and because these two are stinking rich, there’s a free apartment in a highly secured, rich people only apartment tower quite a drive out of town (away from us icky plebs). Once installed there, Lauren’s mental issues are really exploding: she begins hearing strange sounds in the apartment, sees what she takes to be subliminal messages on TV and develops quite some ideas about mind control. She manages to make contact with conspiracy minded journalist (cough) Vernon Sarsfield (John Cusack) who has a whole spiel about THEM trying to mind control rich people, for what I can only assume to be reasons. While Vernon is totally trustworthy and helpful, Lauren begins to believe everyone else is out to get her, or rather, program her for murder as a proof of concept. Even her own husband is probably involved or already mind controlled.

I am usually not at all against paranoid thrillers about mind control and the evil plans of THEM, but Rob King’s Distorted just doesn’t do anything as well as many a mediocre paranoid thriller, not to speak of the number of films in the sub-genre that are actually good. At first, this looks like a not uninteresting attempt at mixing the cinema of political paranoia with the domestic thriller but once the film starts to proceed down all the expected genre lines, it becomes rather clear that the parallels to domestic thrillers are going nowhere of import. That’s thanks to the characters’ bland personalities, Lauren being the most boring person with massive psychological issues imaginable and Russell being such a non-entity I found myself actually hoping for him being not just mind-controlled but actually in on the evil plan because that would at least give him one personality trait. Alas, this is not to be, for Distorted goes for the Reagan era kind of ending where the magical power of love between married couples beats mind control. Too bad the film never actually put any work into establishing Lauren and Russell’s relationship as that strong or deep.

As for the political part of the paranoid thriller, King’s film doesn’t actually have any politics at all, lacks the anger, desperation or cynicism a film in this genre needs. THEY are just some guys whose goal seems to be to mind control people so they can mind control people.

The film’s writing is terribly weak in general, in the end shooting for a tacky “save the baby!” finale it doesn’t have earned the right to actually use.

None of these aspects are improved by King’s bland direction that can’t produce tension to save its life – or, for that matter, the film. To put insult to injury, this thing also features the lamest mind control footage reel I have ever seen, as generic and bland as everything else here. I didn’t expect The Parallax View, but I’ve seen TV shows in the 90s that handled this sort of thing much better.

To end on a half positive note: Ricci, Fletcher and Cusack are pretty okay, there’s just nothing in the script for them to actually sink their teeth in.

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