Empathy Inc is an interesting film. Part Being John Malkovich and part Wallstreet, the film follows Joel; a financial maestro in the art of closing deals, reeling in investors. Basically, imagine the FYRE festival founder Billy McFarland on the comeback. That’s who Joel is or will become after about five minutes into the film.
For Joel, there is no rock bottom. Just more rocks to slither under. The actor Zack Robidas inhabits the scaly skin like a Tuxedo. His portrayal of not one, but several characters is magnificently nuanced.
Soon after a deal with Genesis Tech Integrated or GTI for short falls through due to some fraudulent numbers, Joel finds himself rooming with his in-laws. Both of whom have that down-home awe shucks vibe thanks to actors Fenton Lawless and Charmaine Reedy. Joel comes to learn his father in law has a well-guarded nest egg to fall back onto. Joel, never one to put anyone before himself, directly disobeys his wife and strings father-in-law along on his next pie in the sky investment strategy.
The name of said strategy and hence the films title: Empathy Inc. What’s Empathy Inc? As Joel finds out it involves rich people paying to have experiences that give them Empathy. Even if that means wrecking the lives of ordinary people. After a quick turn living inside someone else’s body, Joel decides the company is worth betting his future and father in-laws small fortune on.
The operator of Empathy Inc is played to sleazy perfection by actor Eric Berryman. His portrayal of a businessman out to swoop up investors seems closer to that of a crack dealer. He is heartless, cold, and will say anything to move the product which in this case happens to be Empathy Inc.
Things are never quite what they appear to be on the surface. Joel finds out that he has tumbled too far down the rabbit hole. Cashless and wigged out of his wits, Joel sacrifices everything to right the wrongs he’s caused to crop up in his path for a financial payday. Doing that will involve a lot of John Malkovich like moments that I won’t spoil here. I will say that the director Yedidya Gorsetman and the crew have done a superb job with this indie sci-fi gem.
Now on to the filmmaking mechanics. Visually the director has decided to go with a black-and-white palate versus color. I can’t recall the last time I saw a modern film in black-and-white so I think the lack of hues may be a bit jarring for some viewers. It takes a while to really forget your watching black-and-white, but by the time you do you may already be enthralled by the pulpy vibe of the film and have adjusted.
As far as how the XVR setup is depicted, there’s a barebones utilitarian vibe that harkens back to something out of the first Matrix film. But does it work here? In my opinion, it does, but mostly thanks to the performance of the actors who are using (“ahem” being used by) the XVR.
On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Empathy Inc. For a sci-fi geek, the film is largely entertaining as a stripped-down sci fi film. I’d place in a category along another recent stripped-down 2018 sci fi film Prospect. Though I do recommend the film, there is a moment where a major twist in the film feels more like a plot hole in hindsight, and it does take away from my appreciation of the film in retrospect, as it does make the whole thing feel a bit cheap. However, watching Empathy Inc. Overall, it’s a solid entry into the sci fi genre.
Recommended if you enjoyed: Being John Malkovich, Primer
FINAL GRADE: B-
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