Boston Underground 2017 Review: HIDDEN RESERVES, Dystopian Noir of Money and Death
Insurance is one of the great oddities of the current economy. Pay money every month *in case* something happens. House and medical insurance might be there for you (provided your insurance company doesn't find a loophole to get out of a payout); but life insurance , well, at least you know you'll die someday. What if you still had debt at the end of your life that you couldn't pay off? And someone found a way of putting you in a vegetative state to use your body to pay off that debt?
Such is the premise of Hidden Reserves, Valentin's debut feature film. In the near future of his creation, those who don't have death insurance are forced to remain alive (in body only) as repositories of data until their debt is repaid, which could be decades. Vincent (Clemens Schick) is one of the top sales agents of this insurance, and at the top of his game, nearing the top of the corporate ladder, as he is able to convince the wealthy and well-off middle classes to buy this insurance, even if they are unlikely to have any debt. Secure in his work, having occasional sex with his boss, and able to afford a fairly extravagent lifestyle, he was a life that many Wall Street brokers would envy.
But on the other side of the fence is Lisa (Lena Lauzemis), part of an activist group that attempts to sabatoge the storage facilites and release the human data machines to a proper death. After Vincent is unable to secure a rich client and is demoted, his one chance of regaining his former status is to infiltrate this resistance via Lisa. Inevitably, Vincent finds himself drawn to her, and questions his own values and his drive for money and power.
As I said recently in another review, often sci-fi films merely use the sci-fi premise to tell another kind of story, often a thriller. And certainly, Hidden Reserves is a contemporary dystopian noir-thriller, both in story and style. The colour is washed out almost to black and white; Vincent is all grey tones and angles, while Lisa and her kind lurk in the shadows. Money is a key demand and goal of many of the characters, while others deal in crime (albeit for a worthy cause). There are creepy back alleys and speak-easy like bars, where Lisa sings her forlorn songs, all the while Vincent must decide who's side he is on.
But the sci-fi premise remains strong in theme: how much is a human life worth? What is the fundamental importance of death? How much power should corportations be given to control life? In the T***p era, the film's scenario seems all too plausible. But Valentin keeps a few twists up his sleeve, and the strong and understated performance by the lead actors are engaging to make you wish you could be in that bar listening to Lisa sing (as long as your debts are paid off).
There is some predictability to the story of Hidden Reserves, but the journey is strange and off-putting in a fascinating way, and even if you figure out where it's going, the trip is worthy.