- Posted by Carl Lyon
- On January 28, 2016
- 1 Comments
2029: Seven states secede from the United States of America, forming a new state in the Pacific Northwest called Jefferson. While its promise of a “free state” is hopeful, reality soon sets in. There are few jobs, so its citizens are mired in a life of poverty and joblessness.
Enter Dylan, an ex-military free agent with a rare cybernetic implant–a “Super”–named Clyde. Clyde is an advanced AI contained in a nondescript metal cylinder that Dylan plugs into his skull for direct interfacing. Dylan returns to Jefferson in order to reunite with his lost love (and cousin) Sarah, a “glam-punk, post-information” singer. Unfortunately for Dylan, Sarah has settled down with a Peace Officer named Bruce, leaving Dylan strapped for cash and alone in Jefferson.
All of that changes when he meets Lisa, a mysterious woman who is assaulted twice by black-lipped junkies. Dylan saves her, beds her, and receives a proposition from her: help her reach a financial settlement with her estranged husband Sterling for a cut of the proceeds. He agrees, but is soon pulled in well over his head, facing off against the dangerously charismatic Sterling as he struggles to find a cache of hidden gold bullion and the truth as he finds himself manipulated on both sides of the struggle.
Were it not for the aforementioned near-future politics and technology, Black Road wouldn’t be out of place in the shadow-draped streets of a Raymond Chandler novel. It’s got it all: a down-on-his-luck private contractor, a mysterious and dangerous ex, and the equally mysterious and dangerous vamp who plays our hero like a puppet. Yep, Black Road is definitely a “neo-noir,” and a damn fine one at that.
First, there’s the weird sense of cynical realism to the proceedings. Yes, this is a world with holographic computers, non-lethal handguns, and advanced AI implants that insert directly in the users’ skulls. However, it’s also a world with poverty, addiction, and stillborn dreams. It can come across as a little pro-government at times, but it never reaches propaganda levels. It simply shows that ideals aren’t always enough to succeed, especially when the selfish nature of humanity is at play. There’s also the setting, which brushes aside the typical neon-drenched dystopias of films like Blade Runner (the neo-noir archetype) for a sleepy coastal town in the Pacific Northwest. It makes the high-tech elements feel like anachronisms, as the majority of Jefferson is left behind as the rest of the world advances. It’s charmingly unique and oddly familiar, like someone using an iPhone in the backwoods.
All of this smart world-building is only window-dressing if the script isn’t smart, and writer/director Gary Lundgren delivers in spades. It follows all of the usual twists and turns that a good noir would follow, but it deftly juggles in its own unique ideas without tripping over its own feet. Most striking of all is the way that Lundgren handles voodoo-flavored mysticism, as Sterling exerts his control over people with herbalism. It’s never fully explained, but the mystery of it adds to the movie’s unique flavor.
The cast also does a great job at their roles. Sam Daly, who worked with Lundgren on Redwood Highway, plays Dylan as a man who lives his life in a state of paranoia and desolation, even as Clyde tries to comfort him from inside his head. Clyde, voiced by Andrew Wilson, comes across as a droning machine that’s trying to empathize with Dylan, and provides another unique wrinkle. Finally, the show is all but stolen by Simon Templeman as the mysterious Sterling. His contradictory nature of old-school commune-building hippie and greedy military contractor meshes perfectly with his performance, which ping-pongs manically between snarling mysticism and charismatic calm. Special nerd bonus: Templeman has done a lot of video game voiceover work, including Kain from the Legacy of Kain series.
I don’t know where all of this great, plausible sci-fi is coming from, but it’s a trend that I hope will continue in the future. Movies like Synchronicty, Uncanny, and now Black Road are fantastic examples of the genre that I hope will keep producing into the future.