Defective (2017)

Perhaps it is in the future, perhaps it is happening not too far from us and not too far from now.

Fear.  The fear of violence, chaos and disorder:  it has driven the people of one state to institute the ultimate solution to their fears, constant surveillance and an army of cyborg protectors to stop anyone who breaks the rules.

This is one of those SF films which feels very relevant to an age where we excuse TSA agents patting down ninety-year old grandmothers and lock our kids up in a windowless prison of a school in the hopes that it will keep them safe.  In Defective, not only has this drive for security at any cost turned an entire state into an inescapable Gulag, but there are plans to expand it to include other states, the whole country, and perhaps even the world…

I’ll have to confess that I was a little surprised when I was checking this one out on IMDB to find that it was made in Canada.  I suppose we tend to think that our willingness to trade off our comfort and convenience (and perhaps some of our liberties as well) to be safe is somehow unique to the U.S.  One of the things that makes Defective work so well is that the rules the “Suits” are enforcing are deliberately left rather vague: that avoids taking political sides while still offering a critique of our slow move towards a security state.   At one point, a character deliberately forces a confrontation with a “suit” by smoking inside a building, but the scene is not a libertarian rant about smoking laws, but a rather chilling reminder that the “protectors” of this society are willing to use lethal force over remarkably minor offenses.

The problems that set Rhett Murphy (Colin Paradine) at odds with the State seem almost as trivial — mostly his unpaid bills —  but then he tries to stop one of the “suits” from executing a stranger.  He is forced to flee, along with his estranged sister, Jean (Raven Cousens).  Unfortunately, there may not be anywhere to run, and the only option they have may be to fight…

This is somewhat familiar territory, as there have been more than a few movies about people pursued by a dystopian state (and, of course, Robocop also featured a police force which had been farmed out to a major corporation), but this is a particularly solid example, with a good cast, and convincing acting.  It also stands out for the stellar design of its cyborg police, whose strange, mechanical faces barely seem big enough to hide a human head.  It is impressive how good this film looks despite its many production woes, with just enough interesting minor details added to the background to create a persuasive near-term future.

On  the downside, one notes that the CGI drone looks rather soft when we see it up close, a common problem with low budget films.  However, there is only one scene where it is close to the camera, and it is used sparingly enough in the rest of the film that its weakness isn’t obvious.  There is also one over-the-top gore moment in the film which unfortunately is so extreme that it doesn’t have the effect I’m sure they intended.  Instead I found myself laughing, which isn’t what one wants in a film with a serious tone.  Ironically, I have praised a similar moment in The Chronicles of Riddick, but that was handled with little emphasis on the gore, and more on the force of the blow.  Neither of these moments takes much away from the film, however

While most of the story is fairly straightforward, there is an unexpected out-of-left-field twist near the end that caught me by surprise.  Perhaps one might argue that it wasn’t really needed, but it does help to emphasize some of the film’s larger themes.

This is an often brutal, slam-bang action film which grabs hold of the audience early on and drags them along.  It takes risks, kills off some of our favorite characters, and yet ends on an entirely satisfying note.  And you’d never guess it was made in a warehouse space, with walls so thin they had to stop filming every time the neighbors used their units.  

While only director Reese Eveneshen’s second film, it is an assured and confident work, one which shows a lot of passion and skill.  

We can always use more of that in the movies these days.

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