Only two films into their new career, the husband and wife team of Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola have established themselves as artists Their latest film Magnetic made its world premiere at this past weekend’s Boston Underground Film Festival. With Magnetic Epstein and Cacciola combine conventional the science fiction staples of time travel and alternate realities with elements of whimsy and fantasy from Alice in Wonderland and put their own abstract spin on them in order to explore the themes of isolation, boredom and whether or not humanity has any sort of higher purpose. Relying heavily on their background as musicians and music video directors, the pair chart an unconventional path in storytelling by allowing visuals and mood convey the intended emotional and philosophical impact. It’s a challenging film, and a difficult one to review.
Earth is set to end a fiery death after a massive coronal mass ejection. The only hope seems to lie in Alice, a nondescript woman who sits alone in a cubicle each day in a job that has her telling families a loved one has died in the most monotone means possible. The notice arrives at the same time each day, leaving Alice alone with her thoughts for the remainder of her twelve hour shift. Yet Alice can still dream, and in the reality of Magnetic, she may be the last human alive capable of doing so. This special ability lends her the utmost importance, and each week ends with Alice transporting back in time one week, repopulating the world with slightly different versions of herself in an attempt to find the key to save mankind. At the outset of the film, this cycle has repeated itself over 4200 times.
Magnetic offers a remarkable study in contrasts both visually and sonically. The interior settings of the film are almost barren of color, sparsely decorated and designed to mimic the clinical settings of a hospital or state ward as closely as possible. However the facility resides on a rural farm that is teeming with sheep and earth and life. Along with the abundance of analog devices-despite its future setting iPads, smart phones and virtual screens give way to rotary devices and the omnipresent cassette walkman-there seems to be a call back to simpler times where connections and joy stemmed from tangible interactions with people and places as opposed to our present time where texting and virtual chat replace face to face interactions. Nighttime brings Alice vivid dreams of humanoid spiders and lambicorns (a new word!) further confusing her while pulling her closer to her destiny.
Cacciola and Epstein fill Magnetic with music from one of their side projects “Night Kisses.” The uptempo, electro pop music stands out in marked contrast to Alice’s lack of emotion. The use and tone of the soundtrack marks an inspired choice. It gives the audience a reminder that even in such a clinical, drab, lonely setting beauty and inspiration still exist. Despite Alice’s stoic demeanor, the music remains a constant presence for her, perhaps giving her something tangible to hold on to and drive her forward. The soundtrack is an essential part of Magnetic as it serves as Alice’s anchor to the world and provides an emotional backbone to the often surreal imagery on screen.
Epstein and Cacciola’s greatest couple was casting Allix Mortis in the role of Alice. Not only does Mortis play multiple versions of the same character, she’s often either the only character on screen, or interacting with an “alternate” version of herself. With dialogue stripped to the bare bones and often delivered in halting, awkward fashion, Mortis relies on body language and facial expressions to convey. Fortunately her background as a burlesque dancer and performance artist give her a wealth of experience to draw from when it comes to telling a story without relying on exposition. Mortis sells the disconnect from the world along with the boredom that comes with the repetitive, mundane nature of her work. She is on guard throughout the film, keeping an added layer of distance between herself and the audience as if she is mindful and mistrusting of the constant presence of being filmed.