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Listening

Listening (2014) Movie Poster
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Cambodia / USA  •    •  100m  •    •  Directed by: Khalil Sullins.  •  Starring: Thomas Stroppel, Artie Ahr, Amber Marie Bollinger, Christine Haeberman, Steve Hanks, Arn Chorn-Pond, John Alexenko, Dave Bean, Sarah Beguiristain, Pamela Cedar, Kalim Chandler, Timothy Lee Conley, Jonathan Adam Cousens.  •  Music by: Edward White.
       A team of genius-but-broke grad students invent mind-reading technology that destroys their lives and threatens the future of free-will itself.

Trailers:

   Length:  Languages:  Subtitles:
 1:47
 
 

Review:

Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
Image from: Listening (2014)
This was a very difficult film for me to initially get in to. Possibly due to the low-budget independent nature of it combined with the rather clumsy attempts at casual conversation and character building that takes up the entire first 10 minutes or so of the film. I don't know enough about these characters yet to care about the kind of conversations they have at the beginning, and the rather weak way its handled does not ingratiate me to them any quicker. The whole introductory portion could've been significantly edited down or else sharpened a bit.

For me, the low-budget indie style and the initial tone of the film reminded me a bit of "Primer", but the comparisons end there. Primer was very direct, sharply focused, and didn't care if you couldn't keep up with its extreme technical dialogue while not leaving you behind as it unfolds. This film doesn't know enough about the technical matters of its subject to leave you behind with.

Its initial introduction to the characters trying to create a means of "telepathy" seems to go over your head, until you realize there's almost nothing actually to it, technically. David types rapidly on the keyboard, Ryan fuses wires to a computer chip, then attaches it to his head, Jordan is there to be the token girl character, Melanie to be the cliché nagging wife, Lana to be the MacGuffin child whose sole purpose is being the object that motivates David. Typing is done, overly dramatic code is displayed, and people are overly concerned with the well-being of the subject guy even when nothing happens.

Once going past the introductory stage, we're abruptly introduced to some cliché sketchy generic CIA FBI Men in Black types with what looks to be the exact same type of device trying to put thoughts and ideas into people's minds and getting them to do pointlessly hideous things like get a guy to kill his dog for no reason because they're the bad guys and that's what bad guys do (thankfully, he doesn't kill the dog, but kills himself instead, as any reasonable person would).

These two plot elements very quickly come together so you're not left wondering too long what the hell you just saw and get worked up over the painfully cliché evil tone it sets, complete with blinding bright lights and one-way mirror with sinister roughneck government guy angrily complaining about progress being slow. The two main characters are brought before sinister roughneck government guy via Jordan who turns out to be working for the CIA and spying on them. Then they all start working together on some telepathy-based project with no clear or coherent content. There's literally no mention of what they are actually researching or trying to do. They all work in a lab where they've apparently already mastered telepathy perfectly; they can read each others thoughts and be needlessly paranoid around each other while a row of shaved-headed bald white men in black turtlenecks sit in a sinister little room perpetually lit red, spying on the workers with the workers fully aware of them and able to look at each other.

It's such an absurd, Kafkaesque setup that I, as a viewer, got needlessly angry at it. It made so little sense to have identically-dressed, identically-hairstyled people sitting in a room opposite a lab, in full view of the lab workers, just constantly monitoring them and staring them down whenever one of them makes eye contact.

Suddenly, David spies on the head lab doctor's notes, and finds... literally I don't even know what. We get quick shots at some sinister looking lab notes, the name "DARKBIRD II", a picture of a baby, and some other science-y buzz words and now David is set to bring down the entire operation they're working on. The one opportunity he has at explaining this is via a rapid, paranoid meeting with Ryan in a public place because their apartments are bugged because it would be a major plot twist if they weren't. His explanation is... I literally don't even know what. He rambles some incoherent thing about free will, the gubmint spying on people via telepathy, and gives some dumb examples of CIA being able to manipulate elections or turn random civilians into assassins using their magic macguffin telepathy. Somehow Ryan thinks this is all a good idea, implying it would mean no wars, no crimes, no violence, etcetera, and given how thinly explained the whole project was, you literally could believe either side of this and believe that the other side is completely wrong. You may as well have been told "This project is bad because people will be hurt" versus "This project is good because people won't be hurt" and it wouldn't have done anything more or less.

David gets into an incident with his estranged wife, then runs away to become a Buddhist monk, because he told Ryan earlier that he could try to deceive the CIA telepathy turtlenecks by thinking about one thing while doing another and that somehow only Buddhist monks are capable of doing this well enough for him to do it without detection. The montage consists solely of him getting his head shaved, some bland, generic meditation and lecturing from some Buddhist monk guy, then he leaves to go execute his plan.

His final plan is basically... kill everyone. He says the project is so dangerous, all of them basically need to die, so he turns on a two-way feed between everyone's telepathy in the lab, causing a feedback loop thing which somehow kills everyone's brains, making them all vegetables. Ryan manages to pull off his telepathy chip and confronts David afterwards yelling at him because he killed Jordan, then non-telepathy CIA agents come in and kill David after he kills Ryan with the feedback loop.

What did we learn from the movie? Virtually nothing. The whole telepathy idea the film runs with basically consists of hearing thoughts while the camera flickers back and forth between two still images of the people thinking, like a primitive imitation of 3D. For all the ideas the film offers in terms of telepathy, it's shocking how much literally nothing happens throughout so much of the film, with nothing behind the telepathy, nothing behind the CIA plot, nothing coherent or definite happening, everything relying upon vagaries and hand-waving to try to tell a boring, cliché story that ends up depending so much on the stuff that is hand-waved away.


Review by Andariel Halo from the Internet Movie Database.

 

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Feb 25 2016, 22:26
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