Were you curious what the underrated sci-fi thriller The Thirteenth Floor would’ve been like if it were a dramedy? Well, wonder no more, as writer-director Trevor Peckham’s Discontinued is just that. Based on a story by Peckham and Michael Villucci, the darkly comedic drama is about a simulated reality. Of course, hundreds of plays, books, shows, and movies have explored such ideas, so how does the filmmaker make his feature-length debut stand out?
Sarah (Ashley Hutchinson) is at odds with her life. She feels like the decisions she’s made aren’t really what she’d like, which causes her a great deal of anxiety. Her therapist, Theodore (Robert Picardo), tries to be helpful but is at his wit’s end. However, when Sarah discovers that her world is just a facsimile created by higher beings, something inside her clicks. Knowing that most of her actions and choices weren’t hers frees Sarah from her worries and doubt.
But why did these beings choose to tell their A.I. lifeforms the truth? Well, the simulation has run its course and is due to be shut down in a few weeks. All of its citizens are given two options. The first is to have their consciousness moved to a more basic server, reliving their favored memories repeatedly. The second, more difficult choice is to stay in the abandoned world, choosing your own path. The Guide (Langston Fishburne) comes to Sarah to help facilitate her choice. Of course, Sarah decides to stay while everyone else wishes to move on. Is being totally isolated but free to do as you want all it’s cracked up to be?
“…Sarah discovers that her world is just a facsimile created by higher beings…”
It’s easy to draw parallels between the plot of Discontinued and any religion where one worships a higher power. Interestingly, Peckham never overplays this by honing in on one religion; instead, he uses it as a moral guide for the characters. This is most evident in Tucker (Michael Bonini), with whom Sarah had a disastrous date early in the picture. Due to the context and message, there’s a lot for viewers to chew on once the credits roll. Since the plot is fairly straightforward — much of the screen time is spent observing Sarah finding herself — the focus on the themes and one’s values in life are what’s going to stay with everyone watching.
Hutchinson delivers a brilliant performance, appearing in almost every frame for the entire hour and 32-minute runtime. She takes what could’ve been seen as a selfish, entitled brat and gives her a charm and resolve that is enticing. Audiences will instantly take a shine to her and are glad when Sarah grows more and more confident. Fishburne is just as good, believably emoting through what appears to be, at first glance, a monotone character.
Discontinued also makes great use of its music. The few songs sprinkled in are used to underscore Sarah’s feelings perfectly. Near an hour in, Sarah is drinking it up while seemingly throwing everything she owns onto the floor. It is a bit chaotic but also remarkably freeing to witness how uninhibited the character is by that point. The song that plays during this scene is a rocking good anthem that matches the energy of the visuals.
Discontinued might explore an idea that has been done several times before. But, filmmaker Peckham does so in a very unique and engaging way. The religious parallels are fun to dissect, while the acting bolsters the intelligent screenplay. So, what would you do if you found out you lived in a simulated reality?
For more information, visit the Instagram page for Discontinued.
"…unique and engaging..."