‘First they take your thoughts’
Brainstorm – aka Listening – is a 2014 American science fiction thriller written and directed by Khalil Sullins. It stars Thomas Stroppel, Artie Ahr, Amber Marie Bollinger, Christine Haeberman and Steve Hanks.
Two cash-strapped yet ambitious Caltech grad students, David (Thomas Stroppel) and Ryan (Artie Ahr), are attempting to refinine their telepathy technology in the former’s garage. They meet the alluring and intelligent Jordan (Amber Marie Bollinger) who helps them with a major breakthrough (“You need nanotubes!”). However, Jordan’s presence creates sexual tension, and she is not all she seems…
Beyond the blandness of its original title, there is no doubt that Brainstorm‘s central premise about the possibilities of mind reading, and thought control is fascinating. Writer/director Khalil Sullins’s ambitious debut feature begins falteringly, yet soon develops into an involving sci-fi thriller that would have perhaps benefitted from some tighter editing and a more grandiose climax. Despite the obviously low budget, performances are more than adequate and location shooting in Cambodia gives the production a definite boost.
Sullins bathes each scene in specific colour filters (for example, most of the early tech experiments in the garage/lab are predominantly washed-out yellow), which is meant to accentuate the ambience , however sometimes proves to be distracting, creating an artificiality that reminds the viewer that they are, after all, just watching a movie. That said, the stark redness of the government research facility’s ‘listening’ room works well in contrast to the icy blueness of the scientists’ desk area.
The depiction of David’s marital breakdown lends authenticity to the proceedings yet also serves to slow the narrative down just at a point when the involvement of a typically nefarious CIA department begins to open the film up for the suspense we’re expecting to unfold once the baddies become involved.
Overall, there’s a Cronenbergian bleakness to the film that some viewers may find off-putting, yet arguably gives it a strength of paranoid purpose. Despite some unevenness, Brainstorm is an indication that Sullins has a talent that will evolve over time and this film is a good place to enjoy watching it develop.
Adrian J Smith, Horrorpedia.com
“Director/screenwriter Khalil Sullins makes an auspicious feature debut with his audacious sci-fi thriller that’s as engrossing as it is thought-provoking. Exploring the nascent technology that will no doubt make mental telepathy a commonplace occurrence, and that’s a world we probably won’t want to live in, Listening features style to spare despite its obviously low budget.” Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
“Listening displays courage: in embracing bold stylization and colors in an age of washed-out, gritty sci-fi; in not retreating from the more horrific aspects of the involved science; in not succumbing to a sugar-coated, traditional happy ending. That’s why it breaks my heart to say that Listening doesn’t live up to its full potential. There are too many leaps in narrative logic, too many cliched character motivations, too many predictable twists…” Nathanael Hood, The Young Folks
“Meditation as a countermeasure against a sinister mind-control conspiracy is a novel idea; too bad it’s wedged into a rickety framework of numbingly conventional dramatic complications, half-hearted eroticism, and pervasive humorlessness…” Jonathan Keifer, SF Weekly
“It feels like the Sullins is working at the very ends of his budget, yet still manages to create a stylish sci-fi flick.” Geek Tyrant
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