Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky says this Oktober ain't no fest.
"And thanks to you, we could all wake up in Hell!"—Dr. Franks (Michael Bertenshaw) to Rochelle (Lydzia Englert)
It begins in a Chechnyan field hospital. Civil war rages all around, but inside, something strange is happening to the hospital patients. A tainted batch of medicine is showing a bizarre side effect: the victims of the tainted medicine are all exhibiting a psychic connection.
Meanwhile, an ineffectual teacher (Stephen Tompkinson) in a Swiss private school cannot even get his bored students to name a single Shakespeare play. As an English professor, I suspect that I have had this nightmare already. Worse, Jim ends up sneaking into a mountain research facility so he can hook up with a student's older sister. He accidentally stumbles onto a drug company's efforts to cash in on that contaminated medicine, now dubbed Mentazone. Injured, he is injected with Mentazone by Rochelle (Lydzia Englert), the woman he is chasing after. Oops, he dies anyway. Then, abruptly, he is alive again—and he escapes. Needless to say, the company wants its first experimental resurrection back. Can Jim escape from the bad guys and—brace yourself—turn the tables in the third act and stop their nefarious scheme? Cue chase music.
If David Cronenberg and Dan Brown had a baby…it would likely beat up this movie on the playground after school. Oktober requires an absurd chain of events to get its hero into the story, and the result reads more like a Marvel Comics origin story than a thriller. The editing is jumbled: transitional scenes are missing and the pace is more suited to an episode of PBS's Mystery! (exposition-heavy, with underdeveloped action scenes) than a fully-realized thriller. Indeed, this was a British television movie originally, so writer/director Stephen Gallagher (a vet of BBC genre programs like Doctor Who and the creator of Patrick Stewart's latest television series, an SF melodrama called Eleventh Hour) supposedly wants to make this more about "ideas" than "thrills." Pity the idea is couched in too many clichés to be particularly interesting.
Stephen Tompkinson as the hapless Jim is clearly more suited to a comic performance (like, say, his work on Ballykissangel) than a paranoid thriller. He is lightweight, never convincingly threatened. He is given plenty of dramatic stuff to do, especially in scenes of psychic trauma (he telepathically relives the murder of another experimental subject in one scene). But from scene to scene, his mood swings from light to grim with no discernible continuity.
Indeed, there is little discernible continuity in the entire film. One minute, our hero is teaching a class. Next, he is slipping into a highly secure corporate facility with little more than a borrowed name tag and a smile, just to talk to a pretty girl. Then he is suddenly in Geneva (which is evidently full of British people—we hardly meet anyone in this film who isn't a transplanted Brit). And all these Brits work for the conspiracy, of course.
Who is this guy? What is he like and why should we care about his problem? Why does the story seem to go nowhere for long stretches of time? Apart from the fact that he likes to quote Whitman and Marlowe just to show off that he is a literature teacher, there is nothing much to Jim's personality. He gets kidnapped and manipulated by the evil company repeatedly, but I could not drum up any more sympathy for him than I could for a mouse in a lab experiment. For example, Jim's new girlfriend Linda (Maria Lennon) works for the company and is nightly drugging him for experiments. He learns the truth when he goes to her flat and sees a file on Oktober sitting right there on her computer screen. Haven't these guys heard of security at all? Then he goes to her office—and steals her PDA right out of an unlocked desk.
In trying to track down background on this film, I noted that somebody somewhere compared Oktober to North By Northwest: a straight-ahead actioner without much thought to plot logic. At first, I thought that Oktober might function better as a parody, a self-conscious collection of clichés, stock dialogue, and shallow characterizations. And then I realized that it was not self-conscious at all. In spite of the comic (or even campy SF) backgrounds of many of the participants, Oktober displays no sense of humor, no sense of that Hitchcock charm that would suggest the participants are having any fun. I know I certainly did not have fun.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
• Director Biography
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