EIFF 2015 – Brand New U
Simon Pummell’s Brand New U explores a sci fi world where people have the opportunity to start afresh in a new life while leaving the old one behind.
The film starts with Slater (Lachlan Nieboer) having a romantic evening with his girlfriend Nadia (Nora-Jane Noone) before people break in and snatch Nadia in the dead of night. Slater confronts the attackers and finds that the one he unmasks looks exactly like Nadia. It’s a solid start that builds a sense of mystery and intrigue.
When investigating Nadia’s kidnapping Slater is invited to visit a corporation that offers clients the chance to leave behind mediocre, unfulfilling lives and start again with a better one. Nadia has been given such an opportunity and Slater is urged to do the same. He agrees to their terms and undergoes a complete rebrand down to having plastic surgery performed on him. His new life has him working in a factory with new friends and a shiny new apartment. It all seems like a pretty decent setup for him.
The conflict comes when Slater is resistant to the changes in his life as it is made apparent that his life with Nadia is over. His motivation for accepting their offer was so that he could find her and bring her home where he feels that she belongs. He struggles to adhere to their guidelines from the beginning and it only gets worse when he meets a Nadia clone. He spirals into obsession despite the fact that she doesn’t remember him at first.
On a conceptual level this film is fascinating. Most of us have probably contemplated what our life would be like if we were given different opportunities. Would this change us as people? Would we be happier than we are now or would we be more miserable? At its best science fiction tackles these questions and attempts to explore the possibilities so this film should be commended for creating a world where such ideas can be explored.
It’s unfortunate that the execution isn’t quite slick enough to pull the whole thing off. The world feels dynamic and real if a little underpopulated and there are plenty of interesting ideas to fire up the imagination. Focusing on a romantic angle feels really limiting and the exploration of the concept of a second chance feels very surface level as a result. It’s seen to be a bad thing because it pulls these two people apart. Having it limited to Slater’s perspective means that the audience only has the opportunity to see things from his point of view. It is stated that if he hadn’t stumbled in at the wrong time then Nadia would have been replaced and he would never have known the difference. It isn’t made clear why Nadia wanted out of a life that seemed happy enough for a start. Their love story never feels like it’s worth caring about either. A lack of solid chemistry between the two leads makes it difficult to become invested in their love story.
Lachlan Nieboer puts in a solid performance here but he is given very little to work with. Some of the dialogue is so corny that the best of actors wouldn’t have been able to make it believable. He does feel natural enough and part of this world but his character isn’t especially deep.
Nora-Jane Noone does a much better job but her character is given a lot more. More versions of her are seen throughout the film and she feels believable as every one of them. As with Nieboer she always comes across as being a part of the world she lives in.
One thing the film does well is building the atmosphere. I felt a constant sense of foreboding throughout and it always felt as if something sinister was going on beneath the surface. As above it would have been more interesting to see this concept explored from multiple angles rather than the skewed perspective given to us here.
In many ways it feels like an update to Hitchcock’s Vertigo as well as John Frankenheimer’s Seconds. These films are clear influences and are respectfully homaged throughout. Stylistically this film takes on a life of its own so it never feels like a bland retread of its influences.
It’s definitely worth a look as a curiosity but it never quite manages to be good. The influences are always respected and the world feels organically functional rather than forced to create a sci fi premise. There are some entertaining moments but overall it falls flat.
An ambitious failure that aims high but never really manages to achieve what it sets out to do.
The world was well built and feels organically functional with an intriguing premise running underneath it. Everyone can relate to the concept of wanting to abandon their life and start again with a better one.
Focusing this through the lens of a love story feels really limiting as there are so many angles worth considering. The ideas are never explored beyond the surface level and the perspective always feels skewed by the limited focus.
The actors do quite well with fairly limited scope to work with. Lachlan Nieboer’s character Slater isn’t especially deep and a lack of believable chemistry between him and Nora-Jane Noone make the love story impossible to invest in.
It’s worth looking at as a curiosity but the ideas presented are never really explored to a satisfying level. It’s a shame that it doesn’t work as it is genuinely original and has some great ideas.