“You have to love someone pretty hard to let them pass encryption,” says a character in writer/director Christopher Soren Kelly’s feature-length debut–the micro-budget sci-fi mystery, The Tangle. Kelly flirts with the nifty notion of intangible human emotions colliding and intertwining with similarly incorporeal pixels throughout the narrative, yet his ideas are both too spelled-out and diffuse to fully cohere. It’s as if the filmmaker were so excited to share his plethora of theories and concepts, he pieced them together into an extended, rambling dialogue piece; all “tell” and no “show.” For a sci-fi feature, it’s certainly not visually-stimulating; perhaps it would’ve worked better as an audio-book.
The story takes place in an undefined future (“year 20 –”) in Los Angeles – or, to be more accurate, in a dimly-lit interrogation room. Mysterious agents, Edward (Christopher Soren Kelly) and Laurel (Jessica Graham), question and torture Carter (Joshua Bitton), the prime suspect in the murder of the kimono-sporting Margot (Mary Jane Wells). When asked if he knows why he’s here, Carter proclaims, “I haven’t the faintest shred of a wisp of a clue.” That is obviously a lie, yet he does seem innocent of the crime. When the agents press on, he inquires, “How do you not know who killed her? The whole world is a searchable database!”
“…created by the enigmatic Cleopatra… ‘The Tangle’ is to the internet what Hal 9000 is to the abacus….”
Well, Edward and Laurel are not part of the titular “Tangle,” you see. Only a phone connects them to “The Tangle,” Matrix-style. What the f**k is “The Tangle?” you may logically ask. I’ll allow Kelly to break it down for you: created by the enigmatic Cleopatra (Bel Deliá ) – who may or may not be involved in Margot’s murder – “The Tangle is to the internet what Hal 9000 is to the abacus… [It] connects the trillion-trillion-fold swarm of quantum-entangled micro-drones, some of them intelligent nano-bots,” which in turn can be connected to your cerebral cortex and sync you up with the whole world. People who don’t use avatars are referred to as “naturalists.” That includes Laurel and Edward, who compare the “tangled” Carter to a Google car. With me so far?
Our gang is soon joined by Francesca (Nicole da Silva), Edward and Laurel’s Hazmat-wearing colleague. From this point on, the plot (d)evolves into so much murky exposition, only the most ardent of science fiction aficionados will stick with The Tangle until its underwhelming ending. The neat – if not exactly novel – concept of fusing a neo-noir-ish mystery with sci-fi tropes doesn’t work, as it tilts heavily towards the “mystery” aspect, assaulting you with non-stop exposition. For a film about constantly-moving “micro-drones,” it drones on and on, suffocating and static. The admittedly crisp shots that take place outside of the interrogation room are all-too-brief, one scene – involving a character banging their head violently against a table – being the 15-second stand-out in a 95-minute grueling ordeal.
“…flirts with the nifty notion of intangible human emotions colliding and intertwining with similarly incorporeal pixels…”
“This isn’t a philosophical discussion,” Edward states at one point. Could’ve fooled me. Except the dialogue is all pseudo-poetic nonsense, so rapid-fire it’s like the filmmaker hoped you’d miss its silliness due to its speedy delivery. “Didn’t she cut out your heart?” Laurel asks Carter about Margot. “With a spoon,” Carter replies bitterly. “Then threw it on the coals.” He gets all the juiciest one-liners: “I swear on a stack of babies and Barbies, I did not kill her!”; “This Tangle life is harder to understand the next moment than it is this”; “The keychain allows me to read quantum fluctuations on the edge of the soul”; “You remember Xanadu? You fear paradise more than you fear hell.” O-okay.
The Tangle’s first shot introduces slick-looking Robo-Taxis, lifted straight out of Tron. That’s by far the coolest thing you get to see in this film, which – pardon the pun – gets so tangled up in its own “intellectual” ruminations, no amount of love would let it pass encryption.
The Tangle (2019) Directed by Christopher Soren Kelly. Written by Christopher Soren Kelly. Starring Joshua Bitton, Christopher Soren Kelly, Jessica Graham, Nicole da Silva, Anil Kumar, Mary Jane Wells, Bel Deliá.
4 out of 10
"…“…fuses a neo-noir-ish mystery with sci-fi tropes…”"