Judge Joel Pearce cursed his dyslexia when he learned this British indie thriller has nothing to do with Michael Stipe.
What if you're not paranoid?
At first glance, I thought EMR was yet another trip into British gangster territory. As it turns out, it's more like a bizarre cross between Mulholland Drive and Conspiracy Theory. It's a fine little film, too, if a bit too ambitious.
Facts of the Case
Adam (Adam Leese, Quality Indigo) is an epileptic conspiracy junkie. He has few real relationships, but does have a job and an online girlfriend named Lilly (Whitney Cummings). His life is an ever tentative balancing act, which falls apart when he becomes suspicious of his new epilepsy medication. When he investigates, terrible things start to happen.
Adam has a terrible seizure, then wakes up in South America short one kidney. He finds himself in San Fransisco, only to be kidnapped by a taxi driver when he seeks out Lilly. He is fired from his job. Between each of these nightmarish episodes in his life, he awakes in his apartment, only to discover that he has been gone for a week or more. Every event leads him to the pharmaceutical company, but his investigation makes no headway: His entire life is spinning out of control…
If nothing else, EMR reinforces a truth we all know already: Pharmaceutical companies are evil and must be destroyed. Seriously, though, it is a film that plays well to the fears that we share as a culture. We put so much faith in our comfortable lives. Our jobs are secure. Our relationships are stable. The medication we are on helps and is completely safe. Often, behind all of this trust, a small voice cries out, asking "what if?" There are bad people out there, and they do have to target someone.
The back of the DVD's case calls the film plot-driven, but that's not true at all. In fact, trying to follow the plot of EMR is a futile exercise. This is a film driven purely by tone and character. Fortunately, both of these things are established really well. The cinematography is fantastic, capturing the paranoia that drives the film and never showing more than is necessary. It uses a number of inventive angles, as well as some really compelling handheld work. The characters are interesting too. While Adam is an everyman, he's also a very stylized victim in all of the proceedings. He never breaks the cycle and peels back the curtain to reveal the sinister monsters that are controlling his fate. Rather, he is a pathetic but likable loser, pulled ever closer to his own fate thanks to his inability to act and find a foothold in his life.
Unfortunately, not everything works so well. The ending is a monumental disappointment, partly because no ending could possibly live up to the bizarre sequence of events that Adam suffers through. I knew halfway through that the ending would be disappointing, although I suppose the final twist is fitting in some ways. Still, it's an ending that negates everything that has come before, rather than building on our understanding of it. By remaining painfully ambiguous, a film like Mulholland Drive is more frustrating, but also more satisfying. Maybe it's just that surprise endings have become so common that they no longer shock us.
Also, many of the supporting roles are not so interesting. There are some downright painful moments, such as a scene with paramedics, as well as the performance from Whitney Cummings once Adam and Lilly actually meet. I suppose that's to be expected in a film with unproven actors in the minor roles, but it still damages the overall impact of the film.
More than anything, EMR feels too self-conscious. This marks directors James Erskine and Danny McCullough's move from television to feature films, and they are trying to show off what they can do. They have a hip indie soundtrack, use all the stylish tricks in the book, toss in a few unique gimmicks, and deliver a film that would never be released into a mainstream market. This is a test run, a bid to get noticed in the international film festival scene. From the numerous award citations scattered over the cover, they appear to have achieved their goal. It would have been a better film if they hadn't made it so flashy, though. At times, the assembly of the film is distracting.
Shiny Object has delivered a fine DVD. The video transfer is solid considering the low budget source material. The sound is excellent, especially for a Dolby Surround track. It has plenty of depth and clarity, and the music is great. There aren't many extras, but there is a pleasant commentary track with the two directors as well as a production featurette. It looks like it was a fun shoot, and the energy has definitely been transferred to the screen.
In all honesty, EMR isn't a great movie. Some moments don't work well, and it's a bit too surreal to impact the audience as much as it should. Still, it stands as a great indie debut, and it deserves to be checked out. It's nice to see independent filmmakers really digging in and producing films that don't try to compete with the mainstream market. Check it out.
I am definitely going off my Pfenal prescription after seeing this. Shudder.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shiny Object Digital Video
• Director Commentary
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