Lost Lovechild of Kubrick and Hitchcock: Empathy, Inc.

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Empathy Inc

Director Yedidya Gorsetman and Screenwriter Mark Leidner have put together a sleeper hit of masterpiece proportions.

EMPATHY, INC. starts out simply enough. Joel (ZACK ROBIDAS) is a successful silicon valley executive, about to make a fortune with the release of a new technology. But his partner has been falsifying the results of the tests, with devastating financial results for Joel and the company he worked for. He is scapegoated into ruin, and he and his wife Jessica (KATHY SEARLE) are forced to move in with her retired parents.

Desperate for work, Joel runs into an old acquaintance, Nicolaus (ERIC BERRYMAN), who has a proposition. He and his partner, Lester (JAY KLAITZ) are making a breakthrough with Virtual Reality that is so groundbreaking that everything you sense feels absolutely real. The clients are wealthy people who want to see what it's like to live as underprivileged, so they can understand them better -- hence the name of the company, Empathy, Inc. The only funding Joel might get ahold of is his father-in-law's police nest egg, and he's not about to risk that.

But when Joel tries out the XVR technology for himself, he is convinced of its effectiveness. And with his father-in-law actually eager to invest (so he can help his daughter buy a nearby house), Joel goes all in.

Things take a turn, however, when Joel tries the technology a second time, without supervision, and finds himself living as a disadvantaged young man chased by police. Breaking the rules -- going through doors and looking in mirrors -- we are left to puzzle out the mystery when Joel comes out, and there's been a murder. Is Joel still in the XVR environment? Is he losing touch with what's real when he's out of it? Or is there a simpler -- and wilder -- explanation for it all?

Filmed entirely in black and white, EMPATHY, INC. is a superb piece of science fiction meets cinema verite. The budget is low, but the results set a high bar in independent film making as this imaginative and thought-provoking and cautionary tale, reminiscent of some of the best of Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. The acting from Robidas is truly astounding, particularly as he is forced to re-cast his character each time (and to say more than that would spoil the McGuffin of the film). Searle, Klaitz, and Berryman als put in stellar performances, making EMPATHY, INC. one of the better sci-fi films of this year.

5.0 / 5.0