Director: Ben C. Lucas
Stars: Jessica De Gouw, T.J. Power, Thomas Cocquerel, Liam Graham
Watch OtherLife online in the UK: Netflix UK
Wondering how to fill the time travel gap now that Travelers and Timeless have been cancelled? Then transport yourself no further than Time Travel Thursdays, our column devoted to time travel movies on Netflix. It’s on Thursdays.
Strictly speaking, this Australian sci-fi thriller isn’t a time travel movie in the traditional sense. The second feature from director Ben C. Lucas (Wasted on the Young), OtherLife is set in the near future and stars Jessica De Gouw as coding genius Ren Amari, who’s invented a virtual reality drug that allows users to enjoy life-like experiences (snowboarding, say, or deep-sea diving) while only seconds pass in real time. Ren secretly hopes to use the drug to bring her brother Jared (Liam Graham) out of a coma, but her life is turned upside down when her boyfriend, Danny (Thomas Cocquerel), takes a dose she’d prepared for Jared and dies.
Meanwhile, behind Ren’s back, her greedy business partner, Sam (T.J. Power), has been negotiating with the government, who want to use it as a virtual prison (“Hard time without the time”). After Danny’s death, Sam tells Ren that she’ll go to real-life prison unless she agrees to test the virtual confinement program by spending a year in virtual jail, all of which will only take a minute of her life. However, when the year elapses, the digital clock resets to zero and Ren realises something has gone terribly wrong.
Before the main plot gets going, OtherLife throws in some other time-related elements for a spot of foreshadowing. For example, there’s a fun sequence where Ren is testing the virtual snowboarding experience and she keeps being reset to the beginning of the day, Groundhog Day-style. That same sequence also includes a shot of reality folding in around her, which is very reminiscent of the effects in Inception.
In general, the effects work is excellent, especially considering the film’s relatively low budget, and there’s a nice level of invention in the production design. In particular, there’s a visually appealing kaleidoscope effect that’s used to signal the beginning of a virtual reality trip, something that the film returns to later on, with impressive results. The rest of the film looks striking too, thanks to Dan Freene’s cinematography, which achieves a believable-looking near future, using gleaming surfaces, bright Australian sunlight and smartly chosen locations.
The script is loosely based on the novel Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge and there are interesting digs at start-up companies, as well as underlying fears about whether technology is going too far, its tendency to isolate the individual, and the fact that the government is always willing to step in with a suggested sinister use for any new technology. The film also has a pretty decent selection of twists (some you’ll see coming, some you won’t) and there’s an intriguing sense of mystery in the middle section that works well.
However, the film’s strongest asset is Jessica De Gouw, who delivers a compelling performance that keeps you interested even when the plot starts to get a bit wobbly. Ultimately, the film undermines itself by opting for a supposedly emotional ending that doesn’t quite work, but for the most part it’s worth a watch, time travel or no.
OtherLife is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.