Empathy, Inc. is an ambitious new indie sci-fi movie that takes advantage of an excellent premise to make an effective thriller. Admirably old-school, yet addressing relevant and timely themes, this is a refreshing surprise showing that there is still potential in the genre.
The film tells the story of an investor in a VR company that promises to allow upper-class people the opportunity to take a walk in the shoes of someone less fortunate as he discovers that there is something more to the company than it seems. Playing out a bit like an extended episode of Black Mirror, the movie takes familiar tropes and turns them on their head to provide an interesting commentary on the dangers of technology.
Like pretty much any other tech-based horror-thriller, this film warns about the dangers of taking things too far. Although this is ground that has already been covered, the way in which the movie approaches this theme is very interesting and thought-provoking. With VR technology becoming extremely popular in recent trends, it is fascinating to think about how these systems that are being taken for granted could go terribly wrong.
The pacing of the film is extremely deliberate, and while the slow burn may prove to have too little excitement for the more horror-leaning audiences that come to the movie, it is ultimately very satisfying. Granted, the film does hold few surprises in the long run, but the ride is enjoyable and meaningful.
Additionally, the character development in the movie is quite effective. In the beginning of the film, the audience is introduced to the protagonist in a way that will create an immediate connection. Many will sympathize with his desperateness to make a living, and as a result, the story will be entirely compelling. The lack of a clear antagonist is also effective, allowing the internal dread to take over.
Zack Robidas gives a believable performance in the lead role. His character is very much an outsider to the world in which much of the movie is taking place, and Robidas is able to capture that feeling very well. Since most audiences will be unfamiliar with the specifics of how VR technology functions, Robidas’s performance allows the audience an even more effective window into the conflict.
On a technical level, the film is quite impressive. The black-and-white cinematography is a stylistic choice that works phenomenally, preventing the low budget from showing itself. The set design is minimalistic but effective, with just enough shown to create the illusion of grandeur (or lack thereof) in relation to the technology.
Solidly-made and packed with interesting ideas, Empathy, Inc. is an original indie sci-fi drama that you will definitely want to check out. The slow pacing may not appeal to some, but others will leave the movie impressed by the filmmakers’ ingenuity.
Empathy, Inc. is now available on VOD.