Science fiction as a genre has no limitations, no boundaries for inventiveness as an uninhibited mind is free to let loose and craft ideas of unbounded imagination and creativity. There is no ceiling to hit within the realms of possibility and is surely the ideal genre for low budget filmmakers to explore without the need for a high profile studio with bucket loads of cash. After all, good ideas don’t cost a penny, and good ideas make for good films. One would hope then, that Modified, the debut feature from Paul Cotrulia, uses the brain more than the bucks to craft an original and inventive Sci-Fi indie, but unfortunately there are little redeeming qualities in this technically flawed mess of a film.
Simple in its premise, Modified is a dark thriller, set against the backdrop of a near future where illegal body modification is the next step in human evolution. In an underground club home to the cyberpunks that champion such technology, Kerr (Cory Sanders) finds himself violently caught between two pioneers of the movement in an attempt to win back his love Cole (Lia Albers). What then transpires is an uninspired, poorly scripted movie that expects far too much from the audience while lacking any sort of visual identity or creative flair to make it worthwhile.
It pains me to openly and so excessively criticise a British film that clearly had no budget to play with, but there are so many failings both technical and creatively that make it difficult to use limited funds as an excuse to overlook such glaring and consistent flaws. Obviously a lot of kudos must be thrown towards Cotrulia for getting his movie made. It’s not easy to make a film, we know this, but when the film in question is so misjudged, it begs to question just how many corners were cut in order to shave a few shillings off the expenses.
Most obvious is the assumption that the audience know what future Cotrulia has crafted. It unfairly believes the audience just understands the universe rather than explaining anything properly. We quickly find out Kerr is after his ex-flame, but get no real backstory to their relationship other than over complicated moments in dialogue which ultimately results in us not really caring for Kerr or any of the characters on screen…at all. People died, but I just didn’t care because I didn’t know who they were. There is this constant referral to modifications, but we’re never told or effectively shown what they are until half way into the film, and even then we never know their true place or motive for existence other than to give someone a crappy power. A little Bladerunner style prologue would’ve been nice, hell I would’ve settled for a finger puppet show, it just needed some sort of set up instead of expecting the audience to fill in the gaps on their own.
Alas, the storytelling is only one of many faults. Aesthetically it’s strictly not that bad, just uninspired. There is nothing creatively adventurous about anything visually as Cotrulia plays it safe in the sole location of the film making me wonder why this isn’t stage play. The sci-fi genre strives on outlandish ideas and a striking visual identity; Modified has neither. The colour palette is dull, the dialogue is repetitive philosophical nonsense and the effects are limited to a bit of basic tracking and throwaway compositing. Finally, the audio is frankly appalling. Either there wasn’t a sound recordist, or they did a job so bad they had to re-dub everything in post, and it shows. Exposing the actors to something that looks like a bad Doctor Who episode from the 80s and the fact that around 80% of the film is dubbed in a sound booth, makes the actors look, and sound, a lot worse than they already are. The soundtrack valiantly attempts to paper over the cracks, but even that turns into a monotonous drone by the final act. The performances are all very am-dram with Robert Dawson as the main villain in both the film and to the world of acting. His awkward lightning hands border on intentional lampooning of the genre, but unfortunately nothing bad about Modified is intented for comedic purposes. No one else fairs much better, but when they have to perform their roles once on location, then once in a sound booth, it’s understandable that all the raw emotion which grows on set gets lost when repeating lines into a microphone.
I really wanted to like Modified, I really did. Independent and British with an interesting Sci-Fi premise, it had all the ingredients to spring a surprise. Unfortunately, it goes the other way, really far the other way, and there is precious little to praise about it. The characters had nice suits and gloves I guess, but you can see nice suits in shop windows on Regent Street.
Modified has its Premiere at The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square on the 12th of September but I’m sure you’ll have better things to do, like punch yourself in the face…repeatedly…whilst naked…in a Starbucks.