Is she hallucinating, or is it an incident of Gaslighting, or perhaps something even more sinister than that? Such is the question posed by “Distorted,” a would-be psychological thriller that manages to be both boring and goofy.
Directed by Rob King from a script by Arne Olsen, the picture stars Christina Ricci as Lauren Curran, a thirty-something artist whose bipolar disorder, exacerbated by a personal tragedy that will be revealed late in the narrative, causes her to imagine ghostly figures stalking her. Her husband Russell (pallid Brendan Fletcher) suggests that a move from their dark, shadow-filled house to a modern high-rise called the Pinnacle, decked out with the most advanced security measures, might be just the thing.
So they take a bright apartment in the Pinnacle, where they are welcomed warmly by staff and neighbors alike, with solicitous Philip Starks (Vicellous Shannon, articulating his lines as though he was reading them off cue cards) bonding with Lauren at a residents’ party.
But things soon start going wrong. Lauren hears strange sounds in the apartment, and finds other neighbors, like strange Tim Hoyle (Scott Olynek), unsettling. Even worse, she begins having horrifying visions, montages of scary scenes and menacing words, that she thinks she’s seeing on her television screen. At Russell’s suggestion, her counselor Beatrice (Gigi Jackman) increases the dosage of her meds, but that doesn’t help.
Lauren suspects that something sinister is going on—perhaps subliminal messaging—and goes onto web chat rooms to find out what it might be. She makes contact with a mysterious hooded man (John Cusack, looking bored and thoroughly out-of-place), later identified as a journalist-hacker named Vernon Sarsfield (remember that if you want to understand the coda). He warns her of experiments with mind control conducted secretly through “psychotechnology” in “smart” buildings like the Pinnacle. It may be her meds that allow her to hear and see the system’s workings while others, like Russell, cannot.
To this point “Distorted” has managed to maintain a modest measure of interest, thanks mostly to Ricci’s overwrought turn (the other actors are at best serviceable, and those vision montages, which strobe the screen, should be preceded by the same warnings about the physical effects they might have on viewers that were demanded for “Incredibles 2”). But when the purpose behind all the shenanigans, which involves a little girl (Sophia Daly), is revealed, the inanity of the entire business is so overwhelming that you might feel like slapping your forehead in frustration—if your arm hasn’t fallen asleep by then, as the rest of your body may have done.
Featuring pretty basic technical credits (bland cinematography by Mark Dobrescu, jumpy editing by Jackie Dzuba that’s at its worst in those hallucinatory montages), “Distorted” wants desperately to be the sort of paranoid thriller that hit its apogee in the seventies, but “The Parallax View” it is not. (One could also describe it as a wannabe “Matrix” made on a shoestring without the effects.) It generates tedium rather than tension.