Sunday 29 July 2012

Outsight (2011)

Director: A R Madabushi
Stars: Steve Raine, Oihana Garde, Adam Loxely, Frances Allen, Amanda Golding, Gordon Ridout and Dot Smith
This film was an official selection at the 8th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my reviews of 2012 films.
Somehow I liked all the component parts of Outsight without particularly liking the film itself. The idea behind it is a good one: one man's rediscovery of colour in a world where people are unable to see in anything but black and white. It's easy to read this both literally and metaphorically, as what we see fits both sides equally. It's a arty black and white piece from the outset, with colour appearing only at key points in the story and with serious effect. This was timely, given that I'd recently read about Bruce Bridgeman, a 67 year old neuroscientist whose stereoblindness was cured after watching Hugo in 3D. Yet the story is also dystopian science fiction, with a traditional small man placed into a traditional big machine, although how Agricorp controls its employees is unfolded a little less overtly than usual. Nonetheless Ethan's discovery of colour arrives literally at the same time as his discovery of choice, of viewpoints other than what he's given.

I think my biggest problem was with the feel. I liked the science fiction aspects, the concepts and ideas that are woven into this story without explanation, like Anthony Burgess might do. 'Only the company can release people,' we hear Ethan tell a company counsellor, though 'release' in this instance apparently means 'death'. We're given no background to the environmental chaos that has presumably led to every employee growing their own plants, which are provided to the company as a quota and distilled into some sort of liquid, unpleasant without a pill, that provides all necessary nourishment. It all simply is, and we're tasked with reading this reality as if we'd been dumped into it by a time machine. It runs 24 minutes and often feels like it ran twice that but lost half of its material. Yet this black and white world misses out on as much emotion as it does colour; that's perhaps deliberate given the metaphor but it's missing nonetheless.

Visually it works very well, though inconsistently. We're treated to some gorgeous shots, though others appear almost throwaway. The colour gimmick is handled well. The lighting isn't what it could be, some scenes almost turning their contents into unintended silhouettes. The actors are capable, Stevie Raine leading the way as Ethan with able support from others. Surprisingly it was the more mechanical corporate figures of authority who stood out for me, rather than those who ought to have provided the metaphorical colour. In the end, I found myself drawn more to the story than the film. The screenplay was written by the director, A R Madabushi, based on a short story by Amy Lydon-Strutt called Oculus. That surprises me, because it's such an obvious piece to adapt to the screen, so much so that that could easily have been intended from its inception. Yet it's the ideas that stayed with me, not the gimmick, not the characters and not the visuals.

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