Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

Brand New-U
"For an ambitious SciFi film made for a conservative budget, there’s a lot to enjoy here."

The internet has opened up a strange realm of possibilities for identity. There’s a juxtaposition between the liberating nature of cultivating an online persona, and the constant data gathering of Google, Facebook, and other big data companies. Somewhere in this friction, a clash between fantasy and reality occurs: you’ll inevitably have stumbled across someone who is living a better life than you, in a better place. They’re a better you. And Brand New U takes that idea, mixes it with a face swap thriller a la Seconds and adds a bit of Moon’s personality crisis and speculative fiction into the mix. It’s a film with contemporary concerns, and attempts to explore the fineries of the human condition in exactly the way that sci-fi does when it’s at its best, even if it does fall a short of providing an in-depth analysis of these ideas.

This is, in part, due to Simon Pummell’s decision to strip away a lot of the extraneous detail and focus on creating a romantic thriller that frequently slips into the abstract, spiralling nature of paranoid dreams. Slater (Lachlan Nieboer) is subjected to a bizarre case of abduction on his birthday, which leaves him with a dead copy of his partner Nadia (Nora-Jane Noone). Strange pre-recorded messages on omniscient phones lead him to the offices of Brand New-U, a company which exists to help people carve out a better life by finding a compatible subject and effecting some corrective facial surgery.

Slater is thus thrust from chaos into a surgical, anaemic world of endless iPod white apartments and work environments, while ever-present surveillance drones circuit in and out of frame with clockwork regularity. Inevitably, he stumbles across somebody who is almost a total replica of Nadia, and she has memories of the photograph he smuggled into his new life, but no memory of Slater. Therein lies the friction of Pummell's world. With the background lit and filmed with stark and clinical precision, the world becomes a labyrinth within which multiple copies of people exist and threaten to invade each other’s “lifespace” - a situation that Brand New-U has a fittingly dark, corporate answer for: aggressive acquisition. Instead of it devolving into a violent thriller, however, there’s nuance to be found here.

Regrettably, that nuance is a little too weak. The film highlights the circuitous nature of obsession and love, and is filmed in a phasing, dreamlike manner. An ominous score underpins the whole film, leaning heavily on uncomfortable strings and ethereal flutes that give the proceedings a woozy unreality. On first viewing, it’s hard to plot a throughline into anything more abstract than Slater’s final confrontation with himself. But it’s unclear what precisely this achieves, as we’re never given enough of Slater’s character to anchor ourselves to. His crisis of identity is instead driven by the seemingly infinite sprawl of glass and light he is surrounded by, and that’s not an entirely bad thing as a commentary on our modern world of corporate hegemony, but it is a little disappointing given that the pervasive nightmare feeling conjured by the editing feels at odds with this.

Perhaps this is the point, to highlight the difficulties of existing as an individual in the modern world, the erosion of the self against the whims of companies that see people only as data points, but then Brand New-U seems to sidestep the monetary viability of such a company as it seems to give but not receive. It is the lack of these specific groundings that prevent this film from being a total success, but for an ambitious sci-fi film made for a conservative budget, there’s a lot to enjoy here, especially in the glossy, mirrored fractal aesthetic.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2015
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Sci-fi thriller about a man on a quest to find the love of his life.


EIFF 2015

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