Virtual Nightmare

Dir: Michael Pattinson
Star: Michael Muhney, Tasma Walton, Jonathan Atherton, Jennifer Congram

A TVM with a brain? Indeed, if anything this 2000 entry may be guilty of overthinking itself, which leaves the film somewhat painted into a corner, and relying on a convenient encounter with Mr. Exposition, who ties up all the loose ends. Dale Hunter (Muhney) is an advertising executive living in a weird alternate future, where Marilyn Monroe survived, to make films with Leonardo DiCaprio. But after an accident, cracks being to appear in his reality, and he enlists a library assistant (Walton) to try and work out what's going on before he gets "sent to the Honolulu office" by his employers - a place from which no-one ever seems to return. And what is "Arora", the mysterious product for which he's designing commercials?

The relatively small budget grounds the film, forcing it to rely on smart writing rather than whizz-bang special effects. In this area, its Australian origins may helps - there, cinema is a little less lowest-common denominator - and at least, initially, it's very effective, as Dale strives to find out the truth of his reality. But with every additional layer, the effectiveness of this diminishes, as we go down through another rabbit-hole (in some cases, literally). The film desperately needs a strong central performance to sustain it, and though Muhney tries, he simply isn't up to it - Walton appears to be channeling Janeane Garafolo, albeit not uneffectively. Still, while the title is a horrible spoiler, this is definitely a cut above most modern TVMs: it's good to see the medium can occasionally possess the capability for conscious thought.

March 2006

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