OtherLife is a 2017 sci-fi mystery about a revolutionary new drug that expands the brain’s sense of time and creates virtual reality directly in the user’s mind.
There’s been a slew of really clever sci-fi thinkers lately, movies that push us to consider more deeply what we’re watching, never holding our hands as they wield science like most movie toss out fist fights. These are movies that tell unconventional stories in unconventional ways, and as such, are often far more rewarding. Now comes Ben C. Lucas‘ OtherLife, a sharply-written, well-acted thriller that does exactly that, delivering sci-fi goodness with plenty to keep your guessing.
Ren Amari (Jessica De Gouw) is the inventor of an exciting new technology, an eye drop made of nanobots that can allow the user to experience other lives, but in a fraction of the time. Gotta few minutes before work? Instead of playing a quick game on your mobile phone, now you can, in your mind, experience a whole day deep sea diving or snowboarding or whatever, and it all feels like it’s entirely real. However, with only five days to the product launch, she is still working out the bugs and her business partner and co-founder Sam (T.J. Power) wants to expand the capabilities to the government, who wish to use the procedure on prisoner reform. But when an incident leaves Ren to blame for an accidental death, she’s forced to be a guinea pig, to test the virtual incarceration, living for a year in solitary … all in her mind.
That alone makes for an intriguing setup, but Lucas, who co-wrote the story with four others, including Gregory Widen of Highlander and Backdraft fame have plenty more up their sleeves, doling out a number of very clever twists. Suffice to say, not all things are as they seem, and the filmmakers wriggle around in some trippy back and forths that will have you working to keep it all sorted, and to be sure, that’s a very good thing. Despite the moderate budget, Lucas keeps things consistently convincing, pulling the rug out from under us as often as he can while never keeping it inaccessible. Considering what’s happening, that’s no mean feat.
De Gouw is very well cast, the film centered on her for most of the story. She gives Ren a haunting presence, the young woman dealing with some serious trauma, though I won’t spoil what that is. Where the film most succeeds though is how much Lucas is able to do with what he’s got. Set in a near future, the wide variety of locations and loads of techy stuff feel authentic, lived in, and surprisingly organic, as if it all grew exactly from where we are now. It’s also fast-paced and absolutely pulsing with energy, a driving electronic score keeping things thumping along at a steady clip.
While there are some mind bending questions lingering about when it’s over, OtherLife won’t leave you in the dark. Lucas is careful to never stray too far into the recesses. Certainly, there is some familiarity to bits of this, with Inception-like visuals peppered about, helping to build the ambiguous world, and the truly help to establish the fiction. Many films have us wondering if what we are seeing is real or imagined in the mind of the characters and that is something continually at play here. It’s dense, of course, and refuses to exposition its way to the end, but all of this makes OtherLife a sensational find for fans of smart sci-fi.
Movie description: OtherLife is a 2017 sci-fi mystery about a revolutionary new drug that expands the brain's sense of time and creates virtual reality directly in the user's mind.
Director(s): Ben C. Lucas
Actor(s): Jessica De Gouw, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Thomas Cocquerel
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller