I had never heard of this obscure title until picking it up at a run-down video rental store, but I'm glad that I didn't pass up this rare opportunity. Other than the laughably bad effects (particularly the "enforcer robots"), this film has quite a lot of entertainment value, and tells a gripping (albeit incredibly confusing) story of one man's descent into madness in a post-apocalyptic future. For the incredibly limited budget it looks to have had as a TV movie, the film is definitely effective beyond its presupposed boundaries.
Stephen Markle plays Tom Weston, an affluent businessmanpolitician (it is never really clear), content with the current government and his way of life. When "The Movement" (a quasi-fascistic socialist political organization that promises a future of peace) arises behind media mogul Dr. Fontayne, Weston is approached by his representatives, whom he refuses to cooperate with. Upon their rise to power, he soon finds himself thrown into a brutal futuristic prison along with several associates, where he is constantly interrogated by a sadistic warden (Don Francks) that does everything imaginable to psychologically torture him into admitting to crimes he is innocent of. The warden is terrifyingly persistent Weston is tortured day in, day out for over ten years, with no human contact, until he finally can no longer distinguish between reality and fantasy. Over the years, Weston is tantalized by the sounds of chirping birds and children playing just outside his prison cell, which he hears through a small window high up the cement wall. The only thing that keeps him going is this and the thought of rejoining his wife on the outside world.
Much of the film is revealed through flashbacks during interrogation sequences we see how Weston was implicated in a plot to overthrow "The New Order" by force due to his association with Michael Roland (David Clement), his friend and politician. It is never made clear whether or not Weston is guilty, forcing the audience to come to their own conclusions. Are we to believe that he is innocent? How do we know that his flashbacks are not simply hallucinations brought forth through suggestion? This could either be the result of inferior film-making, or an intentional construct to force the viewer to experience the same confusion that Weston experiences. I would like to think it's the latter.
Spoiler ahead: Throughout the film there are cryptic implications that the great "New World" outside the prison walls may not be everything the warden has made it out to be, and prison aides make unsettling comments about "the end." When prison guard Jeffries (Stan Wilson) enters Weston's cell, leaving the door open, he encourages him to escape, claiming that "it's over
for all of us." Weston attempts to outrun the security drones and escape this futuristic labyrinth. Finding escape to be impossible, he returns to his cell, climbing up the wall in desperation to peer out the window
to see only a barren desert, and a small speaker mounted on the outside wall, continually piping in the sounds of a once-thriving world.
Apparently this was a pilot for a Canadian television series. It's not hard to see why it failed: the plot is simply too convoluted for all but the most die-hard science fiction fans, and it's dystopian vision too bleak for the audience to be left wanting more.
Other than the aforementioned flaws, 984 (or The Tomorrow Man) is an entertaining film, and should be appreciated by fans of low budget science fiction, the post-apocalyptic, or those with a taste for unhappy endings.
Review by OtakuPancake from the Internet Movie Database.