Empathy, Inc marks the second collaboration between director Yedidya Gorsetman, writer Mark Leidner, and producer Josh Itzkowitz. It’s a clever ‘tech noir’ thriller that blends elements of science fiction, psychological thriller, and film noir. The film made its east coast premiere earlier tonight at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to get a screener copy to watch and review.
Rigel Films provided the following synopsis:
Hotshot venture capitalist Joel has a multimillion-dollar deal go up in smoke, and he and his actress wife Jessica are forced to move in with her her parents and start from scratch. At the lowest and most desperate movement in his lie, Joel meets old friend Nicolaus and his business parter Lester, who are seekin investors in a new technology known as XVR – Xtreme Virtual Reality – from their company Empathy, Inc., which is said to offer the most realistic and moving experiences o rushers by placing them in the lives of the less fortunate. Joel gets the startup its funds, but soon discover that the tech’s creators have far more sinister uses in store for their and the reality it provides its customers isn’t virtual.
Empathy, Inc Offers Engaging, Twisty Story
Empathy, Inc is a fun, twisty movie that snatches your attention from its opening moments and never lets go. Writer Mark Leidner effortlessly blends noir with science fiction. The result is a bleak moral fable for a generation growing up in the shadows of the 2008 economic recession.
Like the best science fiction stories, Empathy, Inc relies on a premise that walks a tightrope between the hypothetical and the plausible.
Like the best science fiction stories, Empathy, Inc relies on a premise that walks a tightrope between the hypothetical and the plausible. It plays like a good, extended episode of Black Mirror. Leidner then uses familiar noir narratives – a morally flawed protagonist, fatalism, and a Hobbesian world of cons and lowlifes- to explore the dangers of technology. The marriage between the genres works extremely well as the story twists and turns over its 98-minute runtime.
Stunning Dark Visuals
If Empathy, Inc is low-budget, independent thriller you would never know after watching it. Director of photography, Darin Quan, has shot an impressively beautiful film. The black and white visuals and shadowy lighting really immerse you as a viewer into the emotional conflict and moral ambiguity of its characters. In terms of visuals and mood, Empathy, Inc calls to mind some of Christopher Nolan’s early work, particularly his first effort Following.
Director Yedidya Gorsetman keeps the story running tight. He shows a keen ability to infuse scenes with tension in the absence of elaborate staging or stunts. For example, a scene with Joel forced to hide in Lester’s lab exploits shadows and tight spaces for maximum suspense. In particular, Empathy, Inc’s climax illustrates how a strong story and skilled filmmaking can elevate a movie regardless of its budget.
Empathy, Inc. Is Anchored by Strong Performances
In the absence of special effects, Empathy, Inc must rely on its performances to convince the audience of its premise. Fortunately, all the cast is more than up to the challenge. Empathy, Inc boasts strong performances across the board. As ‘Joel’, Zack Robidas channels the best of noir’s conflicted protagonists. He perfectly captures a mounting anxiety as he sinks further in over his head. The screenplay doesn’t I’ve Kathy Searle much to do early in the film as wife ‘Jessica’, but she shines in the climax. Though he’s largely regulated to a supporting role, Eric Berryman exudes a coolness as the smooth-talking ‘Nicolaus’.
Klaitz delivers an eye-opening performance that adds layers of complexity to a character who initially seemed fairly one-note.
But it’s Jay Klaitz’s performance as the psychopathic ‘Lester’ that I suspect will surprise audiences. Klaitz delivers an eye-opening performance that adds layers of complexity to a character who initially seemed fairly one-note.
Empathy, Inc Promises Big Things From Its Creative Team
In spite of its small budget, Empathy, Inc thoroughly impresses as smart, stylish thriller. The movie’s blending of genres works not only on an aesthetic level but also thematic one. Like past science fiction efforts like Pi and Canadian cult classic, Cube, Empathy, Inc provides an important reminder. Good ideas will always trump elaborate visual effects. Expect big things from this creative team.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A