RogerBW's Blog

Parts per Billion 19 September 2014

2014, dir. Brian Horiuchi, Frank Langella, Rosario Dawson: IMDb / allmovie

As a runaway biological weapon devastates the world, three couples consider the meaning of love.

Like 2005's Waterborne, and probably for similar reasons of tiny budget, this film is much more about the characters and their human stories than about heroic disease-fighting; all we get of the latter is the occasional news bulletin or background voice, which mostly talk about how terrible things are. So it's basically a character piece, and this sort of film lives or dies based on how well it does at making its characters interesting. Alas, it doesn't do that terribly effectively.

The six principals are basically all whiny middle-class suburbanites, all but one of them lily-white, with more or less money but no real sense of interest in life; we're supposed to care as their smug little worlds fall apart, but there's so little effort on the part of the script to make them interesting or engaging that there were times when I wanted a banner reading "Go Team Virus". The cast's not bad… all right, Frank Langella's as good as always, and the rest are more or less passable… but even their desperate struggles against the script, like those of a cat in a weighted sack, can't make the characters appeal. All the women are variously flakey; all the men are variously solid.

Brian Horiuchi wrote the script himself, his third solo screenplay; I have often held that using one's own script is rarely a good thing for a first-time director, and this film gives me no reason to change my mind. Even the best writers need to edit rather than publishing first draught, and the director is the person who culls what the scriptwriter thought was deathless prose and tightens it into something that can work on screen. Or, in this case, doesn't. If you consider this to be a masterpiece of deep and significant dialogue:

"I've considered the high building option. But life is so absurdly short anyway."

"Yeah, I've been thinking that. Makes you only wanna do the important things."

"But what are the important things?"

then this is the film for you.

There are lots of terribly clever blue-tinted shots of empty churches, Significant Trees, urban wastelands (well, it was shot in Detroit, they probably didn't even need extras to play the dead bodies) and so on. And the storytelling doesn't just jump between the various characters, it jumps backwards and forwards in time, because that's the only way it knows to generate any interest given the lack of actual events. (I'm not a filmmaker, but I think that if you're going to do that you should have a good reason for it, not just because you want to line up characters A and B talking about babies before the collapse with characters C and D doing so afterwards.) The principal couples are loosely connected (the old guy is the client of the lawyer and the grandfather of the young guy) but these very slender threads only emphasise how little really ties the three stories together. Later on we get into philosophising about how hard it's worth working to stay alive when everyone you knew and the infrastructure of your civilisation is gone, but frankly Die Wand did that better, and without people wibbling on all the time about how much they love and/or need each other.

And, of course, there's no conclusion. Never mind whether our principals died of the plague, we have no idea whether anyone in the world survived (except for one hallucination sequence which we're told by the names given to characters in the credits is meant to be happening in the future). Oh, you wanted a story? Sorry, I didn't know you were that sort of viewer, dahlink.

This should have been a stage play, run in a tiny theatre for an audience smaller than its cast, who'd have had a really good time and thought it was the Best Thing Ever. As a film? Watch Waterborne again instead.

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