Reviews

SXSW Review: Extracted

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Comparisons to Inception is inevitable for any upcoming sci-fi film dealing with penetrating the mind of another.  It doesn’t help that Extracted shares similar elements in structure, sound design, and ideas. However, Inception wasn’t the first film to attempt the concept of entering another’s thoughts (see: The Cell, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dreamscape). More importantly, Extracted approaches this soft sci-fi premise with a focus and personal touch that Inception lost in its muddled third act.

So, yes, if you must compare the two, Extracted is better than Inception, even if its highs aren’t as high and it’s not quite as polished.

Extracted
Director: Nir Paniry
Rating: NR
Release Date: TBA

Extracted isn’t a low-rent Inception. For one thing, it was in pre-production years before director/writer Nir Paniry even saw it — an experience he described as heartbreaking, fully aware the similarities the films shared which would lead to the unavoidable comparisons from audiences.  So, with such a beloved, high profile Hollywood film as a point of comparison, how does Extracted fare? Surprisingly well, actually.

Extracted opens with technology pioneer Thomas Jacobs standing on a beach, reminding himself who he is: his name, his parents, and how long he has been stuck in the mind of convicted killer and recovering junkie Anthony.  It’s not a terrible place to be, but Thomas is stuck and there is no hope he’ll ever get back to his home and wife, not to mention his physical body.

Designed with the intention of helping the abused deal with moments in their life, Thomas’ technology was intended to help and heal individuals. Despite the technology being cutting-edge, no one seems to be interested in it or at least its intended use. Thomas is advised that if he wants buyers to agree to his high asking price he will have to compromise and open up the tech to new uses. Begrudgingly, Thomas agrees and rebuilds the device for an anonymous client.  The intended use is vague, but one thing is clear: The device will now be able to penetrate the mind of another person.

Once a meeting place is setup and the prototype is finished (complete with a voice-controlled AI system Minnie), Thomas tests out his technology in a way he never imagined. He is to use his device to prove a convicted killer guilty by going into his thoughts and analyzing his memory of the crime. The operation goes swimmingly: Thomas sees Anthony shoot his girlfriend at point-blank. When it comes time to leave, however, Thomas finds himself stuck. With no way to escape, Thomas’ body enters into a coma while his mind is left to explore Anthony’s mind indefinitely.

Free of techno-babble and exposition, Extracted’s tight script focuses on character development. The film’s quick editing and non-linear script keeps things interesting. The questioning of Anthony’s innocence, Thomas’ sanity, and the reliability of memory are slowly explored through a great script and powerful performances. 

Sasha Roiz (Caprica) brings Thomas to life with a nuanced performance that conveys that he is an incredibly determined and cool-headed individual.  Convicted killer Anthony is just as likeable of a character, despite his history, due to a solid performance by rising indie star Dominic Bogart. There is a self-doubt in his voice and face, but we remain hopeful he isn’t guilty of the things he’s done because we grow to like him.

As a debut effort, Extracted is a mixed bag. Paniry’s wonderfully ambitious debut isn’t without flaws. The film has some awkward line readings, poor sound design choices, one-dimensional side-characters (the wife’s actions are hard to believe, at times), and other smaller details a more experienced director would have caught. Regardless, none of these little flaws get in the way of becoming engrossed in this complex, fast-paced story that will keep you guessing until its end.

Described as a “buddy cop film in another guy’s mind” by Paniry, Extracted is a novel sci-fi study on how things aren’t always how we remember.  Sometimes there is another creepy guy hanging out with your 13-year-old-self in your memory. Ok, I didn’t really get the ending but I certainly enjoyed the cerebral journey to it. If nothing else, it’s a film that will have audiences talking and online forum posters theorizing, weeks after its release.