Empathy Inc. – Review
A struggling venture capitalist, Joel (Zack Robidas) invests all of his family’s savings in an extreme virtual reality company. The concept is to give the wealthy an experience inside the shoes of those less fortunate. However, Joel’s struggle to regain his financial status through this ground breaking technology becomes a fight for more than he is willing to lose.
Tightly wound sci-fi thrillers are a difficult thing to master. There has to be some semblance of a grounded reality for the audience to grab on to, and the human element must be potent enough that the plight of the protagonist resonates. The technology touched upon in director Yedidya Gorsetman’s film don’t initially seem like much of a leap from the modern VR and Augmented Reality.
Part of the hook to Empathy Inc. is the “science eventually” concept and the initial pitch from honey tongued Nicolous (Eric Berryman). The extreme VR in question is a near-tangible McGuffin. A means to an end for Joel who is desperate to pick himself up from losing his job, his finances and his pride. On the surface it seems that he’s investing in this new start-up for the right reasons but that slight whiff of avarice clings to the character.
Tonally, Empathy Inc. has elements reminiscent of Darren Aronofski’s debut, Pi (1998) and Shane Carruth’s excellent time-travel movie, Primer (2004). The black and white photography is gorgeous with the use of greyscale perhaps a comment on the intricacies of Joel’s choices and his reasons for his actions.
His relationships aren’t black and white. He lies to his loved ones and manipulates emotions for what he perceives to be a better future for them all. He has the best of intentions as he seduces and bullshits, which is what makes his journey so enticing.
We spend the majority of the film with Zack Robidas, who is excellent as Joel, but robust supporting turns from Berryman, Kathy Searle (as his wife, Jessica) and Jay Klaiz (as antisocial tech-wizard, Lester) are what make this movie work. Their interconnectivity within this tangled web of lies and the true nature of Empathy Inc. lead to a truly remarkable final act that assuredly sprints with its science fiction.
Not only is it thrilling, it’s exhilarating, with tension mounting as the stakes get higher and the concept, weirder.
Empathy Inc. is a cautionary tale for those willing to re-align their moral centre to keep a white-knuckle grasp on their middle-class trappings. The brisk 97 minutes are well-paced, the narrative is lean, and the conclusion is unexpectedly emotional.
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