Domain (2016)

The Saharan Flu has wiped out most of the human race.

Only a handful of chosen survivors have been put into small, self-contained habitats to wait out the end of the epidemic:  While they are all isolated in their own separate bunkers (to prevent the spread of the disease among them) and are in different cities, they are linked by a video network known as Domain to help them cope with the isolation..  However, they can only contact members of their own group of seven survivors, selected by computer to be compatible with each other,

After five  years of isolation, tensions within the group are growing, and they decide to cut one of the seven off from the network.

And that’s when things start going really wrong.  With their systems malfunctioning, members of the group start vanishing mysteriously from their bunkers…

Back in 1997, Vicenzo Natali figured out how he could make a movie using only a single set.  The result was, of course, Cube.

Here we see director Nathaniel Atcheson pulling off the same trick in a very different way:  the individual apartments of the seven main characters are basically interchangeable, and only in the film’s final act do we leave them for a sequence shot on location.

Unlike Cube, with its endless string of bare, utilitarian rooms, and unlike Fritz Lang’s Film Noir Thriller, The Big Heat, which reused the same apartment set for most of the interiors in the film, the habitats are definitely not decorated in “Early Nothing”:  instead, they are elegant, Seventies-Modern, with lots of wood and high-tech computer displays everywhere.  Thanks to the changing lighting and some creative camera work, the end result is surprisingly atmospheric:  looking at the Gallery on the official website, I am struck by just how good the individual shots look.

I find myself reminded, just a little, of the Seventies TV movie, Chosen Survivors, in which a group of carefully selected people are put into a survival shelter to wait out the aftermath of a nuclear war — only here, the isolation is even greater, with them all in tiny boxes scattered across the entire country, and only connected by Domain.

I particularly liked the notion that the characters through most of the film are identified only by the city where there bunker is located — something which later proves far more significant than we first realized.

And, in one of the film’s most interesting visual flourishes, two of the survivors are in love, despite the barriers separating them, and we frequently see them in bed, with the image of the other in bed displayed full size on the wall screen:  the first time this is shown, it seems as if the two are actually in bed together, until the slight video grain of the wall panel reveals the illusion.

Domain takes its time getting started, but does create a nicely claustrophobic and paranoid feeling of suspense.   The mystery itself, with its often unsettling and discordant clues, builds slowly as well, but by the film’s final act, has driven the surviving characters to desperation.  I’ll confess that I had some idea where it was going, thanks to the same clue that one of the other characters spots, but-that happens fairly often (blame my fiction writing skills) and really didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film.

If you’re expecting explosions and big special effects, this isn’t your kind of film.  But if you enjoy a quiet and more cerebral SF mystery thriller, with a unique setting and a few surprises, you should enjoy this one.

(My thanks to Nathaniel Atcheson for providing a screener)

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