A postman is brought into a top-secret superhuman academy at a research facility after learning that his DNA is extra-normal in Martin Grof’s Sensation.
It doesn’t really need to be pointed out that superpowers are all the rage in film and TV currently with so many different takes on powered individuals finding a way to use their abilities in some way. Sensation goes down the route of powered individuals being used by an organisation to possibly nefarious ends.
Andrew Cooper (Eugene Simon) is the focal character who learns about his abilities through submitting himself to a DNA test to learn about the father he never knew. From there he is inducted into Dr. Daniel Marinus’ (Alastair G. Cumming) organisation to help him understand and control his abilities. He is trained by Nadia (Emily Wyatt) and May (Jennifer Martin) and as time goes on learns that things aren’t what they seem.
As plots go it’s tried and tested. Many of these stories start with a character being thrust into a fantastical world they know nothing about so that the audience can learn about it as they do. Bryan Singer’s X-Men famously does this with Anna Paquin’s Rogue and there are numerous other examples. It’s an easy and natural way to deliver exposition as the character has no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into so will ask the questions that prompt those in the know to explain. From a structural point of view this is fine and the early scenes do a good job of establishing that there’s an unknown world out there that Andrew is slowly becoming aware of. A mystery is established, stakes are outlined and Andrew’s confusion is conveyed well. It’s a strong start that presents a compelling world for the film to inhabit.
Unfortunately things start to go downhill from there. So much of the film is consumed by exposition that simultaneously says so much and so little. Questions are asked and are met with vague answers that descend into pseudo-philosophical rhetoric about reality and perception. At times it comes across as if the film is trying to cover the same ground explored far more effectively in The Matrix. This is supported by the film being repeatedly referenced as if namechecking it justifies awkwardly inviting that comparison. A lot of time is spent questioning what reality is and how easily the perception of it can be altered. It isn’t uninteresting and the visual representations are often creative but ultimately the film doesn’t have an awful lot to say about it. There seems to be a conscious decision made to never come to a tangible conclusion which isn’t a problem if the intention is to keep Andrew -and by extension the audience- guessing as to what reality really is but in this case the end result is more confused than profound which ends up being incredibly frustrating. Part of the problem is the repetition of the idea without properly exploring it. Characters will have group discussions and then the points will be repeated in a simulated environment without furthering it. The simulations are striking and offer a refreshing visual change to the generic looking compound but the lack of expansion is an obvious problem.
The acting across the board is another issue though this is likely down to material that is difficult to engage with as the performers themselves are talented. When Eugene Simon gets to tap into his confusion and uncertainty or fear that something horrible that will happen to his mother his performance is very engaging. Conversely when he is having exposition delivered to him and asking questions designed about the world he is becoming aware of his delivery is more flat. Emily Wyatt and Jennifer Martin are unfortunately saddled with the thankless task of largely being exposition delivery machines. In the case of Emily Wyatt she plays Nadia in a cold and detached way, likely to position the character as a mysterious and threatening presence but the narrative unfortunately doesn’t allow for much nuance so the character is largely flat and unmemorable. Alistair G. Cumming’s at times over the top villainous performance highlights the potential this film has to be more fun than it is.
An underwhelming experience that has some clear potential that it’s unable to live up to. Everything starts off well with the main character introduction, establishing a mysterious world to be explored and outlining tangible stakes but it goes downhill by getting bogged down in pseudo-philosophical rhetoric accomplished by characters sitting around delivering exposition to one another. At times there are striking visual departures that cover the same ground but the lack of commitment to exploring the ideas in the necessary detail is frustrating. The acting is another issue though it’s more likely due to the material being difficult to engage with. Eugene Simon’s performance is engaging when he has emotive material to work with but when part of the exposition he’s very flat. Emily Wyatt and Jennifer Martin are largely exposition delivery machines with little beneath the surface. Alistair G. Cumming’s villainous performance suggests a more fun version of the film than the one delivered.
Sensation will be available on Digital Download from 16th April
- Eugene Simon’s engaging performance when emotive material is provided to him
- an engaging world teased early on
- striking visuals
- too much clunky exposition
- ideas being introduced that aren’t well explored
- flat performances from many of the actors
- unmemorable characterisation
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