Producers: Deborah Shaw-Kolar, Jib Polhemus and Andrew Baird Director: Andrew Baird Screenplay: Bryan Edward Hill Cast: Guy Pearce, Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Jonathan Aris, Travis Fimmel, Ned Dennehy, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Maggie Cronin, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Colin Salmon, Olwen Fouéré, Jorin Cooke and Holly Demaine Distributor: Saban Films
A bargain-basement, or really sub-bargain-basement, clone of “Blade Runner,” “Zone 414” is visually tacky and almost infinitely dull. The feature debut of director Andrew Baird is based on a script by Bryan Edward Hill; Hill’s work includes a stint on the series “Titans,” but there’s nothing at all titanic about this shoddy little piece of dystopian tedium.
Guy Pearce, barely moving a facial muscle for the 98-minute duration, stars as David Carmichael, an ex-cop turned P.I. who’s hired by reclusive corporate mogul Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel) to find his daughter Melissa (Holly Demaine). She apparently went missing in the titular region, an area where androids invented by her father cater to human whims.
To aid his search, Carmichael is connected with Jane (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), an android upgrade who feels and grows emotionally as her experience dealing with humans in need, like a man grieving the loss of a loved one, expands. She’s grown morose over her situation and herself longs for release from the tasks imposed on her by her handler Royale (Olwen Fouéré).
Jane is also being stalked by a hooded figure, and fearful of what he might do, she enters into an arrangement with David: she will help him locate Melissa, if he in turn will aid her in identifying—and presumably nullifying—the threat to her from the hooded man.
Neither of these mysteries generates much suspense or tension, given that the pair’s investigations are played out with painful slowness and an almost complete lack of inensity, and result in revelations—sometimes quite early in the game– that hold little surprise. Equally inconsequential are the secrets about Carmichael’s past that come out as the search proceeds; they explain his morose, cruel stoicism in strictly clichéd terms.
Potentially more intriguing is the question, also raised of course by “Blade Runner,” about how human the androids are—more human, perhaps, than the sleazy folk David and Jane encounter during their queries. Certainly Jane’s despondency over what she’s compelled to do is designed to raise such existential issues, and conversation with Marlon’s brother Joseph (Jonathan Aris, as well as Royale, suggests that the script has an inkling of them. But here, too, nothing much comes of the thread.
The fact that the picture, shot in Ireland and Serbia, is so visually chintzy is a decided drawback. Philip Murphy’s production design obviously suffers from a lack of resources, and the use of nourish light and shadow in James Mather’s cinematography fails to conceal how threadbare the entire project is. The contrast with the spectacular visuals of Ridley Scott’s film—whatever its flaws—is astronomical. One has to sympathize with editor Tony Cranstoun, who was tasked with trying to invest the funereal succession of scenes with even a touch of energy, and composer Raffertie, whose score aims futilely to convince us that something important is happening when barely anything is happening at all.
You also feel for Pearce and Lutz, talented actors who, under Baird’s somnolent direction, are asked to register little but gloom and dejection. There are flashes of eccentricity in some of the supporting performances that might momentarily pique your interest, but only Fimmel, playing for the rafters as the Howard Hughes-like megalomaniacal billionaire, is likely to hold your attention for long. It’s not a good performance by any stretch of the imagination—rather a campy exhibition of extreme overacting—and your mouth will probably fall open at the pointless show of excess. But in a movie as dour and drab as “Zone 414,” you look for any reason at all, however ludicrous, to keep watching.
Of course it’s not enough.