Writer/director/star Scott Allen Perry’s extraordinary short probably won’t make you cry, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the most haunting love story you’re likely to see anytime soon. Told with precision, sensitivity and skill, this is a funny, nightmarish tragicomedy with echoes of George Orwell and Roman Polanski.
We’ve all heard about human guinea pigs; the sort of folk who rent out their bodies to make a little spare cash. Alex (Scott Allen Perry) is one of them and he’s not overjoyed. Meals at the corporate-sponsored drug study are bland beyond belief and highly regulated. No other food is permitted. There’s nothing to do other than listen to a Walkmen (which he forgot to bring) or watch TV. No one seems to have a book. The biggest taboo of all is sex — even masturbation is forbidden.
Since this is a movie, we know that the sex issue is going to come up shortly. And it does in the person of the unbelievably attractive, smart and mischievous Crystal (Kathryn Gordon). Though Alex is a shy, unprepossessing soul, she singles him out for a flirtation that, in this emotional hothouse of repression, quickly mushrooms into something that could be love. When the inevitable rule breaking begins, the atmosphere of romantic and sexual tension takes us someplace we might not have expected.
“Side Effects” is effective on just about every level. Writer-director Perry delivers a good-natured, low-key performance and Kathryn Gordon Scott is every bit as good in a role that might have turned sickly sweet. The two together have lovely chemistry that almost makes us forget that Alex doesn’t seem to be the type to so easily attract the beautiful Crystal.
On the technical side, the production design by Alberto Gonzalez-Reyna and cinematography by David Loeb is completely apt, creating just the right note of sterile hopelessness for the hospital-like environment.
Although the surprising denouement is a little too abrupt, I came extremely close to giving “Side Effects” the highest possible rating. It’s a tear-free love story that asks a disturbing question to which, sadly, there may not really be much of an answer. I’m really impressed.