Retina (2017)

A young woman who is going through difficult times volunteers to take part in a medical study on anxiety.  But then she starts having strange dreams which may mean that something far more sinister is going on…

This one attracted a bit of attention on the Indie circuit because it was made by a three-man team — the director, Carlos Ferrer, and Joshua Jenks and Jared Slade Goldman, who did everything else.  And they made it without a budget, on location, and shot whenever they could find the time.  And yet for such a minimal film (like 2013’s Desolate) the film looks and feels very professional, with sharp cinematography and solid editing and performances.

Retina has been compared to A Clockwork Orange, thanks to the images of the brainwashing process.  The Manchurian Candidate might be closer to the mark, storywise, although, frankly, I think that it resembles Vincenzo Natali’s incredible (if somewhat overlooked) spy thriller, Cypher far more as it is one of the few movies I can remember where we see rows of people being brainwashed at the same time.

This one is a solidly paranoid thriller,loaded with the usual supply of  seemingly ordinary people who are actually sinister, and a horrible purpose for all the dreadful things being done to those volunteers.  It is strikingly well made, the CGI effects are reasonably good, the score — which is also by Carlos Ferrer — is moderately impressive, the story is interesting and believable.  Yet the final result is a bit less than the sum of the parts.

There are too many scenes that are allowed to run long, particularly the dreams, which also get repeated too many times, and the film ends up being slowed down again and again.

I suspect they got caught in one of those classic filmmaking traps.  Or perhaps two of them:  on the one hand, there is that temptation to use all the footage you shot, because it took so much hard work to get it; on the other there is that all too common mistake of trying to pad out a film which should be shorter to meet some arbitrary length, usually in the hope of making it more “marketable.”

This is always a bad idea,  even if it was done at the insistence of the distributor’s marketing department.  I’ll admit I find the rare filmmakers who are willing to make their film the right length, even if that is a hour or less, quite refreshing.

Although, frankly, there aren’t too many who who will.  Other than Joshua Kennedy and the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, that is.

So file this one under “so close.”  It is a remarkable piece of work, everyone involved deserves a lot of praise, and it is decidedly watchable, entertaining, and gives you just the right amount of chills down your spine.

But with a tighter edit, it could have been more.  A lot more.

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