A young insomniac’s black-market sleep aid sends his mind time-traveling one day into the future in Bruce Wemple’s Sci-Fi feature Altered Hours.
Before he entered the Star Wars universe by going on to direct The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson made a big name for himself with a couple of his earlier films that were brilliantly inventive. The smart ‘Brick’ was a re-imagining of old Bogart and Mitchum black and white noir films by placing the mystery and same stock characters within a high school setting. Then a few years later, Johnson made the excellent Bruce Willis vehicle called Looper, which combined the best aspects of the Sci-Fi genre with a neat twist. They were his calling cards, cleverly made films that enabled him to reach the heights and success he now has.
Much like those films, there is also a lot to admire about writer/director Bruce Wemple’s first feature film ‘Altered Hours’ and admire it I did. The guy clearly has talent and we are left with an entertaining time travel, mystery thriller that is set in the near future.
Our protagonist is Will Parker, a recovering addict who in desperate need of curing his insomnia, who turns to a new street drug called Z. Unfortunately, he becomes hooked and this drug has some quite nasty side effects including the ability to flash back and flash forward through time. This all sounds like a very cool and useful power in theory, but when these flashbacks and flash-forwards include you randomly appearing at your own police interrogation, in regards to the disappearance of a little girl who lives across the street from you but hasn’t even met yet, well, these abilities are no longer fun.
Although I was reminded of Brick and Looper, there are a number of very obvious influences on this particular film. The title itself is a throwback to Ken Russell’s mind-bending 80’s classic ‘Altered States’ while Wemple’s screenplay is full of Memento-like twists and turns that keep the audience on their toes, so they are never quite sure what is about to happen next. Plus the locations and drug aspects of the story reminded me of Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, which is another great film to be compared to.
Ryan Munzert is good as Will Parker, a dumb innocent, very much caught up in circumstances beyond his control. He uses his frequent time-traveling to slowly piece together the truth of the situation, but he always seems to end up with more questions than answers. I found his performance to be very effective in garnering the sympathy of the audience despite emotionally being a bit closed. More like Keanu Reeves than Joseph Gordon Levitt, however, as the main character, I would have liked to have seen some more humour and recognisable noir-isms in his dialogue and the script. The femme fatales are played brilliantly by Anna Shields, Briana Pozner, and Thea McCartan, while a colourful cast of villains, including the excellent Alex Pires as the Z dealer, battle it out for screen-time, along with inept friends who all wander in and out of Will’s mixed up life. The standout, however, is Rick Montgomery JR, who as the professor and creator of the drug Z, channels a bit of much needed Doc Brown zaniness into the proceedings.
The cinematography helps add to proceedings by being quite dull and grey in the real world but then light and vibrant during the flashbacks. However, it is the soundtrack by Nate VanDeusen that deserves to get the most plaudits; it is excellent throughout and makes you believe you are watching a high-quality movie. Visual effects are used but they are used so sparingly and add to the futuristic feel of the film.
Altered Hours, picked up a number of awards on its journey around the festival circuit and also won the prestigious Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival award for Best Feature. Whether Bruce Wemple can go on to emulate the success of Rian Johnson remains to be seen of course. However, he has made a very good start with this cracking amalgamation of dystopian Sci-Fi, film noir and thrilling mystery.