Distorted (2019) Review

Before heading into this review I’d first like to draw attention to the fact that people suffering from photo-sensitive conditions may have some issues with parts of this film. It currently doesn’t seem to be mentioned in promotional material and the sequences (although fairly impressive) are quite frequent.

You will probably have seen the above poster floating around social media to some derision for its … enthusiastic filtering work. The poster itself is misleading, seemingly promising an action-filled gun-toting John Cusack feature. Happily, the film is better than the poster suggests.

Lauren (Christina Ricci) and her husband Russell (Brendan Fletcher) move into The Pinnacle, a luxury high-rise boasting the latest design features and integrated security systems. While the couple settles into their new high-tech home, Lauren experiences a devastating delusional episode which she blames as a symptom of her bipolar disorder. It is not until Lauren is exposed to Vernon (John Cusack) an investigative journalist with an interest in cyber conspiracies, that she begins to suspect The Pinnacle may be using state-of-the-art control systems to subliminally brainwash its residents. Pitted against her friends, her psychologist and her husband, Lauren sets out on a dangerous fight to uncover the truth. 

The overall feel of this film is that of a late 1990s/early 2000s thriller and is stalled by the feeling that its ideas feel more appropriate for something of that time period. Equally, the problem with any kind of technological fear is that it is prone to date very quickly. For example, Dream House about an ultra-advanced home attacking its inhabitants was released in 1998 and already the subject of a The Simpsons parody by 2001. This film has less in common with those as the house is not as much of a threat in terms of appliances going wrong, but places the focus on surveillance and the control that it offers. With the media regularly running stories on how CCTV and the information we choose to provide constantly leaves us being watched, it is perhaps no surprise that this remains a central concern. The film does throw in a wider conspiracy and political impact but it never really feels big enough in scale or threat.

The presentation also dates it as it lacks the gloss that a modern techno-thriller should probably possess. This does somewhat reduce
the overall high quality of the photography. It is clear that the locations have been lovingly chosen and there is an effort to make it look more expensive through some careful framing and movement. As mentioned at the outset of this review, there are a number of sequences which employ flashing images. These are very effective at allowing the story to unfold in short bursts while still allowing for suspense.

At just under an hour and 20 minutes run time the film is zippy, but occasionally there are scenes which feel clipped, or rushed to achieve this. Short transitions offer little in terms of mood to the film, although keep it taut while providing enough information about what is happening next without spending too much time or energy on it. There are a few moments which feel slightly silly – for example, Lauren in a highly paranoid state heading to a coffee shop to use public WiFi for her research with only a few glances over her shoulder. However, this is forgivable given that the rest of the film, while not attempting anything new or spectacular is more than solid.

Christina Ricci is engaging as Lauren and as we spend most of the screentime with her, this is a real strength. The chemistry between Ricci and Brendan Fletcher who plays her long-suffering husband Russell is not particularly convincing which makes it slightly difficult to invest in their relationship. Both are solid performances, but there are a few moments where they fail to gel. Cusack, despite being featured heavily on the poster is only on screen for a very short amount of time. He turns in a decent enough performance but it seems like a role that could have been expanded upon to better effect.

Overall, Distorted doesn’t break new ground but also doesn’t outstay its welcome. If you are looking for a thriller which has some big ideas that it falls short of but still provides some well-crafted storytelling Distorted may well be worth your time.

Distorted will be available on digital download from 4th February. 

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