Film Review: Reversion

Oh, what short form sci-fi master Ray Bradbury would have made of this overlong short story!
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In recent years, the cult British TV series "Black Mirror" has made the world safe again for one-shot science fiction stories on the small screen, the kind of smart, timely tales previously told on much-missed anthology shows like "The Twilight Zone" and "The Ray Bradbury Theater." It's understandable and entirely appropriate that emerging genre filmmakers would hope to carry that show's spirit into the feature film realm. Take Reversion, the sophomore theatrical feature from Jose Nestor Marquez, which often feels like a first draft of an episode he hoped to submit to "Black Mirror" mastermind Charlie Brooker. Certainly, all the signposts of Brooker's series are on display, from the near future (or alternate now-ish) setting, to the spare production design to the introduction of a piece of technology that's designed to improve life for the citizenry, but—wait for it!—also has some dire consequences.

In the case of Reversion, that piece of technology is the "Oubli," a metallic device that's attached to the ear and syncs with an app that's easily downloaded onto a smartphone. The user can then use the Oubli to access and enhance their most treasured memories—times when they experienced overwhelming feelings of joy and happiness. It's a little like taking a hit of a drug to activate your personal pleasure centers, albeit without serious side effects like ruined teeth and/or severe weight loss. Oubli's maker, Jack Clé (Colm Feore) is more than happy to talk up his product's many benefits, as his daughter, Sophie (Aja Naomi King), who has joined the family business and has no reason to suspect that Dad's creation is anything less than manna from high tech heaven.

Sophie's conviction starts to waver, however, when she's kidnapped by desperate mystery woman, Isa (Jeanette Samano, who originated the role in Marquez's 2014 TV movie, Isa, to which Reversion is a loose sequel). Although she's promptly recovered by her father, she returns to her daily life with the nagging sensation that there's something about her past that she's forgetting…a faded fragment of memory involving her long-dead mother and the exact circumstances of her passing. The Oubli has so far kept those harsher recollections at bay, drowned out by regular hits of the tender moments that she and Mom shared. But maybe, just maybe, Sophie now has good reason to want to remember the bad along with the good.

With the Oubli, Marquez has dreamed up a piece of technology whose implications would tickle the fancy of both Brooker and his antecedent, Ray Bradbury. Those two writers would likely also have provided him with invaluable advice for how to put that technology to use in service of a compelling story. Reversion pulls you in early on with its low-fi but highly tactile sci-fi universe, in which the Oubli app seems not just plausible, but positively ordinary—a feeling that's enhanced by the everyday locations Marquez chooses to shoot in: car parks, offices and airy homes. (Filmed entirely on location in Los Angeles, the movie reminds you how that city has a healthy streak of futurism to it in its residential and commercial construction.)

Meanwhile, intrigue is initially generated by getting to the bottom of what exactly is going on inside Sophie's head. But Marquez tips his hand a little too early in suggesting an answer to that question, at which point he then attempts to stall for time before finally confirming what we've suspected anyway. Within the context of a 45-minute "Black Mirror" episode, that vamping might not be as obvious. When you're seeking to sustain an 85-minute feature, there has to be additional layers to the characterizations and story that can keep the viewers engaged. But for all of the actors' efforts, these characters are largely one-note. In the tradition of the best science fiction, from Bradbury to "Black Mirror," Reversion wants us to peer at these individuals and see ourselves. Instead, we just see stick figures.  

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