Miguel Almendarez’s Higher Beings takes a daring leap in bringing back the silent film era into a modern tale of love and intrigue. Dean (Matt Kirschner) and Lucy (Natalie Nankervis) are two lovers going down two separate paths. Lucy describes herself as “4K” and Dean as “black and white.” Missing every clue, as Dean begins to propose out of desperation, Lucy shuts him down and walks away. Heartbroken, Dean sulks in the shadows of Lucy’s every move.
On her way to the office, Lucy runs into Ned (Russell Hawkins) and discovers they work in the same building. The chemistry between the two is undeniable, but unlike Dean, Ned is not about to rush things because he has bigger plans.
Back at the office, Ned is formulating a scheme he’s planning to send to his CEO that is a “Major Potential Revenue Stream.” The surefire top secret scheme involves the Department of Justice and “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.” Ned is excited about his plan, believing it will take him to the “Stratosphere…Lucy will love the Stratospher.”
Jealous of Ned’s relationship with Lucy, Dean enlists his friend to hack Ned’s e-mail uncovering his highly suspect scheme and his stash of porn videos. Now Dean must figure out a way to foil the plans of Ned, his corporate arch-villain, and win back the heart of beautiful and virtuous Lucy.
Higher Beings pays homage to the silent film era of long ago as it is shot entirely in black-and-white, all dialogue comes in creatively placed subtitles, and a synthesized orchestra replaces the piano soundtrack as its score.
“The surefire top secret scheme involves the Department of Justice and ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.'”
Filmmaker Almendarez also finds inspiration for his story from silent films. Our two lovers are torn apart by Dean’s inability to be heroic…more interesting. She is seduced by Dean’s villainous arch-rival, Ned, who plans to rule the world. Dean must find a way to rescue the damsel in distress. Like silent films, Dean’s plan is a bit over the top, but Almendarez brings a modern sensibility to update the plot.
Miguel Almendarez has a firm grasp of shooting in black and white. As you know, you simply can’t shoot your film and remove color. Otherwise, you’d get a grey mess. Almendarez masterfully ramps up the contrast between black and white and composes each frame, highlighting the subject of those frames against its background. He also uses lighting for dramatic effect that is quite awe-inspiring…for indie filmmaking.
Higher Being is not perfect. First, at just under ninety minutes, it feels too long, and a lot of that has to do with pacing. It’s a slow mover. Also, the soundtrack needed to change to reflect the scene’s mood. There is a brief shift to a more R&B/Jazz track at the bar, but then quickly shifts back to the original score.
The other is that the comedic tone could have been managed better. Balancing the serious and silly is the key to the film’s success. I think it would have served the film better if it was either a dramatic story with moments of comedy or a full-out comedy with heart. Falling somewhere in the middle means you risk being bland.
Though many of the jokes worked, I feel like it leaned a bit too far to the wacky, which can pull an audience out of the story. If you’re not careful, this is more of an artistic issue than anything else.
Higher Beings is an exciting return to the origins of movies. Though not perfect, Miguel Almendarez successfully takes on the challenge of telling a story without the aid of sound or color.
"…an exciting return to the origins of movies."