Monday, December 10, 2012

The Cinema File #57: "Extracted" Review

I wasn't sure what to make of Extracted when I first picked it up. This is another one that I watched solely on the strength of the poster, which sounds like a strange way to pick movies, but is a method that I've found has led to a lot of great finds. This was no exception. It's a simple story once you get past the sci-fi conceit of people traveling within each others memories, and it played out in more than a few ways that I didn't expect, making what I worried would be a rather formulaic crime thriller something surprisingly heartfelt and worthwhile.

Extracted tells the story of a scientist who invents a machine capable of sending a person's consciousness into the memories of another person, who as you might guess, gets stuck inside the mind of a killer. It sounds cliche, and I have to admit that when I saw that this was the set up, I immediately thought of Tarsem's The Cell (and immediately retched as I always do when thinking back on that movie). And yet, there are no cheesy chase sequences through the horrible mind of a human monster, no half-assed examinations of what makes a person evil, or any of the other natural narrative threads this kind of story typically follows. Every time it started going down a path where I thought it was going to go one way, it more often than not diverted into something much more interesting and satisfying.

For one thing, I was surprised by how quickly we establish the idea of the main character being trapped in the mind of another person. The movie begins in the middle with him already trapped inside, the circumstances leading up to his predicament told in flashback, but there's really very little of it. A majority of the action takes place in this mental prison as our protagonist exerts complete control over his environment, stuck reliving the past of a man he only met once because he has nothing better to do. That was another intriguing element, that apart from not being able to leave, there's really no downside to his situation and he can and does do whatever he wants to. It added a sort of Groundhogs Day-esque futility to his adventure that I almost wanted to see played up more for comedy, though tonally that almost certainly would not have worked. Except for the end, where it feels basically earned, there's no manufactured urgency where you think he might die because of where he is, which I found refreshing.

Eventually he learns how to communicate with the man whose brain he's living in and tries to use this knowledge to escape and get back into his own body, and this discovery spurns on an interesting relationship between the two of them. The killer in this movie is not a sadistic serial psycho whose mind is filled with horrific imagery to be explored, he's just a guy who lived a screwed up life and got in over his head. Psychic links with murderers are a staple of science fiction, but I don't think I've ever seen this kind of story told where it actually became a redemptive arc for the killer. A late point of conflict feels a bit contrived, but for the most part, he's a sympathetic character who ultimately becomes the emotional core of the story, even as a man lost in another's mind tries desperately to get back to the woman he loves.

The mechanics of memories and how they can be rebuilt and manipulated are a crucial part of the story and the conclusion, and save for a somewhat predictable twist at the end, its all pulled off very well. The last act turns into a tense race against time to make sense of a fractured recollection of an important moment, and I have to credit the movie for making such an abstract dilemma as impactful as it is. Ironically, I wouldn't exactly call the narrative cerebral in any way other than literally, but then for me that was part of its charm. It's very easy to understand and doesn't get bogged down in philosophy or metaphysics as I thought it might and as so many other sci-fi movies like it tend to do. It's just very simple, streamlined human drama surrounding a few gimmicks that are just quirky enough to make it feel fresh and original.

I would easily recommend giving Extracted a watch. It takes what could have been a very complicated and convoluted idea and instead focuses sharply on what matters most, with characters who are to a person much more well rounded than I ever expected them to be. It's low pressure, easily digestible, and ultimately uplifting. Definitely check it out.

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