Stars: Sasha Roiz, Jenny Mollen, Dominic Bogart, Sara Tomko, Richard Riehle | Written and Directed by Nir Paniry
Tom (Sasha Roiz) is trapped inside someone else’s memories. After creating a machine that enables the user to observe a person’s recollections from the inside, he makes a miscalculation and ends up separating mind from body, existing in the brain of a junkie accused of killing his girlfriend while his body lays in a coma. After wandering through his unknowing prison’s dirty secrets for four years and change he eventually discovers a way to communicate with him and let the outside world know what happened to him so they can, um, put him on a usb stick and back in his body or something. But there’s a catch: In order to get back in his body, Tom has to help his host Anthony properly remember what happened the night he was arrested, prompting a scavenger hunt through his most painful and treasured memories to get to the bottom of things.
Playing like a cross between Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Inception but without the visual flair of the latter or the emotional resonance and humour of the former, Extraction nevertheless has some great ideas but suffers from uninventive photography and a bland central performance from lead Roiz that left me somewhat cold.
The good stuff is good, though; Tom’s detective work sifting through unreliable recollections and the system he develops for communicating with Anthony – meeting in his happiest memory – is a wonderful little idea and his predicament of being in a prison within a prison is much more mundanely cerebral than Inception‘s overly grandiose assault on the senses. Not that Extraction doesn’t try to be Inception, mind – repeated scenes of men in suits on desolate beaches is an obvious rip-off and the initial flashforward that begins the movie feels like writer/director Paniry is trying a bit too hard to incorporate a labyrinthine Nolanesque structure. I’m much happier in the moments when the film feels comfortable coming up with new ideas, like having Anthony announce to a room an ultimatum meant for Tom that he’ll experience moments later when it becomes a memory.
Unfortunately things take a turn for the formulaic when Anthony makes a nonsensical bid for freedom due to what Mark Kermode calls “plot reasons” and guns get thrown into the mix. My interest wavered around this point and the ending didn’t really offer anything unpredictable except a rather bizarre callback to an earlier scene, but the concept of Extraction alone is enough to make it worth recommending to anyone interested in memory or soft sci-fi, taking into account the limitations of what was clearly a modest budget. Perhaps not the highest praised ever bestowed on a film, but I can’t think of any major release this year that’s given me as much food for thought.
Well, maybe Man of Steel.