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Channeling (2013) Movie Poster
USA  •    •  106m  •    •  Directed by: Drew Thomas.  •  Starring: Taylor Handley, Kate French, Skyler Day, Dominic DeVore, Ryan Walker, Landon Ashworth, Alex Solowitz, Christian Camargo, Josh Feldman, Melissa Ordway, Bernardo Badillo, Kyle C. Beach, Linn Bjornland.  •  Music by: Mark Denis, Kyle Newmaster.
     In the near future, everything can be broadcast online. When you're vying for viewers and ratings how far will you go to beat the competition? Soldier Wyatt Maddox rushes home to his little brother's funeral, only to find his death was not as straight forward as the police would like. Taking it upon himself and with the help of Tara, his brother's online partner-in-crime, he slips in the eye-cam and sets out to solve the mystery. Little does he know how insidious the business really is.


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Image from: Channeling (2013)
Image from: Channeling (2013)
The title Channeling is deliberately multivalent, meaning both the sense of 'He channelled his energies into archery', and putting something on a channel (so that others can see it).

As director writer Drew Thomas told us in answer to one of my questions, the family of whom Wyatt (Taylor Handley), Jonah (Dominic DeVore) and Ashleigh (Skyler Day) are the grown-up offspring is a dysfunctional one : one son travels from Yemen for a funeral, and is then (in his only real-time appearance) told off by the father for not being there in time.

With Ashleigh's confessional moment on camera, Thomas said that he had intended to portray a self-loathing that might lead someone to seek approval from ratings for their past or future actions or choices. When we saw this system of rating manipulated, and indeed the events that had led up to it, the film did seem momentarily insubstantial and trivial, but it moved away from it, and this was something, perhaps a little self-indulgently, that Thomas almost did throughout the film, mining genres for what they were worth before moving on, even at the risk of lacking cohesion.

Saying that, the dummy commercial that opens the film is funny, thought provoking, and satirical, with insights into where the world of Twitter, etc., logically lead to – it plunges one straight into a counterfactual world, but does not stray far from the things that we know in what it changes. The moments of humour characterize the film, although we are not always sure that it is permitted to laugh, and it also expects us to do some work in piecing together what has happened in and following the pursuit sequence that we see, where the early dialogue was hard to follow.

Not least since this is set in California and begins with a car chase, expectations of topping Drive (2011) spring to mind, but the excitement of the action on the road, and elsewhere, has been styled, Thomas told us, to be more like the era of Dirty Harry (1971) (he did not name that film) and film noir. Just in these things, there was already quite a mixture of feels, let alone with a gangland punishment (including a British-sounding baddie?) that made one wonder if Thomas had equivalent scenes in Seven Psychopaths (2012) or In Bruges (2008) in his sights.

It remain unclear whether these disparate elements enhance or dissipate the film's energies, as it is all too true that many science-fiction films sticks to type, whereas Channeling shows off its director's film literacy. It also has an enviable soundtrack, making an impact right with the opening commercial, and even a live band in the night club reminiscent of The Doors.

Wyatt is not alone in his perilous exploits, for he has an accomplice (or whose side is she on?) in Tara (Kate French). When Jonah tries to explore what his elder brother has been up to, Tara's allure is tangible, but her first reaction to Jonah using Wyatt's device and channel is hostile (a number of retorts to his attempts to speak, such as wishing him cancer).

Comparisons between the brothers are inevitable and deliberate, and, although we see that the professional soldier (Jonah) is tough, and can also drive, he is never going to be Wyatt (perhaps a pressure that he has always put on himself, helped by his father's attitude and actions).

Perhaps it is Tara's confusion, on all levels, that leads her to blow hot and cold towards Jonah, but she definitely starts by imputing blame : here, there seems to be a sort of fog of war about who people really are and who did what, which, in a digital age, when people do masquerade, and when the film explores the boundaries between what is real, what staged (and what predictable, what fixed), makes for even greater richness of reference.

The other question that I put forward was prompted by a film that teasingly plays with the question of free will versus determinism, The Game (1997) : I asked Thomas whether the technology of people sharing their actions and following their ratings, which the film initially seems to be about, had come first, or whether the deterministic theme had always been what interested him most. (It had, and he had wanted to explore the ways in which people do not (or refuse) to take responsibility for what concerns them, and had seen a link with how people in the US use the technology of social media to arrive at an answer based on what others tell them.

If that Doors tribute was deliberate, maybe it leads off in some other directions : Maybe not the advocacy of mescalin and other mind-altering substances, though, in the film, we see tablets of what turns out to be called Oxy crushed and then snorted as if it were coke, but using the edge of the pervasive sort of mini-tablet as a straight edge to line it up.

Perhaps the Warhol-type being famous for fifteen minutes, and just doing things to get a higher number of followers, is a sort of intoxicant or tranquillizer, not unlike Marx's 'opiate of the masses', not least when we see both what use the club bosses are putting participants' behaviour to and how they control it? All in all, a thoughtful film, even if it may be too much of a rich blend of influences for the competing calls on our attention to allow us to settle down – though, since Thomas seems to have aimed at the feel that it has, and if it does still hold together, it may not be right (in a film about people taking responsibility) to imagine a film that he have made by suppressing some of those instincts….

Review by anthonydavis26 from the Internet Movie Database.