Anon (2018)

This is an amazing film.  It may be the best film that Andrew Niccol has made.

Now I realize that’s actually quite a claim: his first film was Gattaca, one of the best SF films of the Nineties.  And, even if he didn’t actually direct it, he wrote the script for the equally remarkable The Truman Show (I will confess a weakness for two of his other films, SimOne and Lord of War, as well).

I’d be hard pressed to say which one of these is best, particularly as they are all remarkably different films.  One can point at certain common elements to these films (many of which also show up in his lesser effort, In Time):  they are cool and elegant, with a hint of something retro, and a densely imagined science fictional premise which has changed the face of the world — genetics in Gattaca, or Truman’s show or the buying and selling of time (which doesn’t make much sense, but we’ll ignore that).

Here, we have a world where connectivity has essentially eliminated any pretense of privacy in our world, where Clive Owen’s detective, Sal Frieland, can walk down the street and know almost anything he wants about those he passes.

Only there are a few people out there who have managed to hide their digital identities and walk the city unseen and unnoticed — one of these, a young woman hacker played by Amanda Seyfried, appears to be murdering anyone who has seen her, hacking her victims eyes so they see what the killer sees…

For those of us who love SF films, it is always a joy to find a film where the SF elements are not merely background details, but are used in creative ways as part of the story.  There are a lot of clever ideas here which might have become the center of a lesser film but which are merely thrown at us as an aside as part of his densely imagined world.

In many respects, this is a high-tech version of one of those classic Italian Giallo thrillers, complete with the mysterious serial killer with the extravagant murder method and an unexpected final twist.  Or perhaps it is closer to one of those Eighties neo-noir films like Body Double or Dressed to Kill.  But rather than the hyper colorful world of the Giallo, Anon takes place in a deliberately grey and washed out world, with little color and a decidedly cool palette.  As in Gattaca, we have a very buttoned down and formal future, with the past meeting the future in a lot of little retro touches.  I particularly love the beautiful collection of classic cars on the streets — A Citroen DS, a Facel Vega, and (somewhat curiously, against those great French Cars) Clives’s  big and brutal first generation Oldsmobile Toronado.  Yet is isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile as it has a whining motor noise that suggests it may be electric, and strips of LEDs instead of the original lights.

The mystery is complex, satisfying and unexpected; the relationship between the detective and the girl is tangled and complicated — and linked to some of the deepest issues in this film.  The film itself is beautiful in a cool and deliberately detached way, with layers of computer readouts piled on top of reality as we move through this strange new world that is as much digital as physical.  It is a stunning performance by a master craftsman, one of the few great writer/directors left in the film industry these days.

It seems a shame that it got dumped to Netflix as an original in this country, even if it did get a theatrical release elsewhere.  But then, intelligent and thoughtful SF, which creates strange new worlds from a few cutting edge ideas, is supremely rare these days — and often gets buried by flashy, CGI ridden big budget films with hardly an idea in two and a half bombastic hours.

Fortunately we still have a few movie makers left who can still create films like this.

But I do sometimes find myself wondering for how much longer.

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And check out our new Feature (Updated May 16, 2019):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!

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