Andrew reviews Listening, now available on Amazon Instant Streaming.
|"This color scheme makes me want|
to Hulk out!!
Ever since Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange presented mind control through a headset with wires running from it, nuts and bolts science fiction head trips concerning tapping into the depths of the human brain continued to manifest themselves over the past few decades. From Ken Russell’s Altered States, Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm, Brett Leonard’s The Lawnmower Man, Tarsem Singh’s The Cell and most recently Kristina Buozyte’s Vanishing Waves, the cerebral premise of the connection between our world and the infinitesimal vastness of innerspace with computer chips is clearly a favorite of the genre. Now here is newcomer Khalil Sullins’ Listening, a low budget crossbreed between the student garage science of Primer, the race against time and military paranoia of Brainstorm and even a hint of philosophy from Darren Aronofsky’s π. The result is startlingly well acted, visually inspired and taut piece of storytelling with more than a few surprises up its sleeve.
As previously mentioned, Listening shares Primer’s bright yellow color schema as well as its collegiate characters on the verge of a technological breakthrough. Opening credits of a DOS computer text and images of spinal injection will no doubt remind viewers of The Matrix although a USB and Y-link headset affixed to the shaved temple of a person’s head felt so close to Brainstorm it seemed more like a lift than an homage. Technology aside, this is one of the better directed and edited low budget sci-fi flicks to come along under the radar in a while with few missteps and a refined color palette. Much to my surprise and delight, there’s a fair amount of location photography highlighting everything from the Washington Monument to tranquil Buddhist monasteries. Much like Vanishing Waves and Gaspar Noe’s out-of-body experience film Enter the Void, thoughts veer towards sexuality as the characters plunge deep into each-others’ mindscapes although the images here are far tamer by comparison. Only the by the numbers action thriller soundtrack feel lacking in invention, almost tacked on to an otherwise exciting celebration of old school sci-fi with circuit boards and soldering irons.
Like I said, Listening doesn’t quite measure up to Vanishing Waves in terms of technical sophistication and fearlessness of taboo imagery and so much iconography is taken from Brainstorm there were times I wanted to put that film on instead. Pacing is also an issue as the midsection is a bit torpid and the third act seems a bit rushed. I also felt where the aforementioned films showed some astonishing vistas once we dove knee deep into the psyche of another person, what we get here is kinda underwhelming Adobe Photoshop level effects work. However, for a first time effort standing on the shoulders of many greats, Listening manages to muster just enough solidarity to set itself apart from its influences. In an age where most sci-fi thrillers are dependent on CGI rendered fistfights and enormous explosions, it’s a breath of fresh air to have a throwback to ideas over fireworks and a reminder that no other experience is more ultimate than that of the human mind.
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