The film 'Empathy Inc', which opened theatrically today, is an admirably pared-back science fiction film that puts a modern spin to the idea of minds between switched between bodies. Yedidya Gorsetman directs the black and white film in a style approaching a state play and the opening scene, in which the main character delivers a peculiar monologue in a theater perfectly sets the tone.
The protagonist, Joel (Zack Robidas), is the former head of a research company who has reached the bottom of his life. A researcher for his company has faked results and his sleazy business partner has left him dangling in the wind. He is reduced to living at his overbearing in-laws' house with his wife (Kathy Searle), who is a struggling actress.
A sketchy associate (Erric Berryman) contacts Joel to help him find investors for a start-up company offering virtual reality entertainment with a difference -- it is exceptionally realistic despite some bugs and allows the wealthy to virtually inhabitant the life of an imaginary unfortunate, affirming the idea that one's life is never as bad as one thinks it is. Mark Leidner's script reveals the process to be something other than virtual reality in a predictable but effective and nasty plot twist.
The film's meditation on the nature of perspective and its general visual style recall Darren Aronofsky's 'Pi' in certain respects. But unfortunately, some of the pulpy melodrama that slightly weighed down 'Pi' at times is on display here - it doesn't ruin the film and is better fit here than in the Aronofsky film..
The performances are solid here with Jay Klaitz standing out as a nerdish villain that develops the consciousness-switching technology. There are nice touches with the editing and the photography.
The final twist is a little predictable but nicely reinforces the theme of what constitutes identity.