S.I.N. Theory just kinda bored me.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
I feel rather bad not liking S.I.N. Theory. I really do. The wonderful thing about the growing accessibility and lowering entry costs of the equipment required to get into filmmaking is that we are getting close to anyone being able to make any movie and put it out there for the world to see. They might even be lucky enough to get picked up by a real distributor – as is what has happened to Richie Mitchell with S.I.N. Theory. It was shot on a less-than-shoestring budget, provided by close friends and family, from a script expressly written to taken advantage of that, in about two weeks, without shooting permits for many of their outside locations, with non-professional actors and a script that has apparently taken great care in having the science be as plausible as possible. It’s toured a few festivals, picked up some plaudits, and is now, three years after it was originally made, getting a UK release thanks to Continuum Motion Pictures.
Which is why I feel rather bad for just not liking this film. It’s one of those feel-good stories that reminds you of just how democratic and open the medium of filmmaking can be, and here I come to be all sour and miserable over what should be a happy ending by saying that I just didn’t really like it. And I didn’t really like it for the most general and arguably subjective reason there is – the story just didn’t particularly interest or engage me.
Said story follows mathematics professor Michael (Jeremy Larter), who has been hard at work creating an algorithm that can predict human behaviour and fate to the second. His theories are met with derision by the faculty, and the methods he needs to complete his work are slightly less than legal. After receiving the notice that his university will not be bringing him back next semester, Michael finally decides to cross that legal line and put together the finishing touches on his algorithm. It works, but this puts him in the crosshairs of two shady skulking thugs, and his growing affection for a student of his, Evelyn (Allison Dawn Doiron), leads to him discovering information he really shouldn’t have.
Again, I don’t really have any problems with the look and style of the film. For the enforced restrictions, the film actually looks half-way professional, mostly thanks to the greyscale (not so much black-and-white) look of the film, combined with the barest bones of its premise and ideas, putting me in mind of a version of Darren Aronofsky’s Pi that was on some semblance of medication. It’s clearly no-budget, but that sort of works, creating this kind of purposefully cold and distant feel that works for the film’s intellectual kind of sci-fi, the one that’s more interested in the ethics and consequences behind its idea instead of anything flashy.
It’s just a shame that the film doesn’t really explore any of that. S.I.N. Theory’s problem is that it doesn’t really do anything with its central idea beyond surface-level insights and arguments that even I could convincingly state for you, whilst its scientific accuracy ends up barely factoring into the film. That can be seen as a positive, in that it doesn’t cause the film to disappear up its own entirely-too-clever-for-its-own-good arse (looking at you, Primer) and it works for the enforced small-scale, but it ends up as a negative because the film doesn’t substitute that surface-level thematic work for strong character work. Neither Michael nor Evelyn feel like anything deeper than the stock archetypes of “the brilliant yet tortured genius” and “The Girl” for 80% of their runtime, and their respective reveals – cos this film does have a little bit more to it plot-wise than it sounds like it does – are too thuddingly obvious and foreshadowed in his case, and too left-field, clumsily-executed, and strangled by the 70 minute runtime in her case.
So for pretty much every last second of that 70 minute runtime, I was sat watching and just feeling rather bored. It wasn’t really engaging me on an intellectual level – the film’s extent of philosophical debating can be summed up by one scene in which Michael and a friend discuss whether humanity will try and create a fully sentient AI despite knowing full well that the AI will destroy us all, and the friend goes, “I think there’ll be two sides, one for and one against. I’m just hoping the smarter side wins.” – and it wasn’t really engaging me on a character level, so I just kinda sat there unengaged. I did occasionally think, ‘Good for these folks for getting a feature film made and distributed,’ but I was mostly just bored by the film they had made. I saw glimpses of potential, and a strong enough competency and potential voice that can hopefully be honed into something better over time, but I just wasn’t entertained or engaged enough by S.I.N. Theory to recommend it.
If it’s any consolation, I do feel really bad about that fact.