Movie Review: ‘Reversion’

“Reversion” lands on a pretty potent sci-fi premise — one which implicitly questions the cheery tech-saturated utopias offered up to us by app producers, pharmaceutical companies, and anyone else who promises us they have our best interests at heart while seeking to profit off our suffering — but it doesn’t know what to do with it other than to form it into a stock thriller, one whose plot mechanics are dictated more by the expectations of its genre than the force of its ideas.

The premise: a tech company creates a device, Oobli, which is worn in the ear and controlled with a smartphone app that enables the user to “enhance” her memories — basically it allows you to play back your most cherished memories as a mini-movie in your brain.

The company is run by Jack Clé, a shadowy figure played by the venerable Colm Feore. His daughter Sophie (Aja Naomi King) handles marketing, and, prior to the official product launch, is Oobli’s number one user. She uses the device to play back her final interaction with her mother before her death. After Sophie is kidnapped, her memories start to change, and she begins to question the basic assumptions of Oobli.

Oobli in some ways recalls the OS in Spike Jonze’s “Her,” a richer and more accomplished film than “Reversion,” but one which seemed to me to have a gaping hole in its center — namely, its disinterest in the origins of its central technology. Where exactly did it come from? And whose interests did its creation serve? Without asking these questions, the OS in “Her” becomes an abstraction, divorced from human society and capitalist production. It seemed to make no difference to Jonze whether the OS was a consumer product or a government scheme or the work of some benevolent NGO.

“Reversion” does have the answers to these questions. Oobli is the work of a capitalist enterprise which has manufactured it for the purpose of making a profit. Director Jose Nestor Marquez, who co-wrote the screenplay with Elissa Matsueda, emphasizes the centrality of marketing and regulatory aversion — Clé’s company has avoided clinical trials by convincing the FDA that its product should not be classified as a medical device — as central to Oobli’s business model, linking it to the current trend of “tech solutionism” (to borrow a phrase from Evgeny Morozov) which would seek to convince us that all problems, even the ones we haven’t discovered yet, can be solved by the right app. Oobli will preserve and enhance your memories; all you have to do is give it access to your brain. (And, oh yeah, you might start losing your memories, but that’s nothing to worry about!)

But having provided this background, Marquez doesn’t push on it or expand it. It’s really just window dressing for a nicely mounted but basically rote thriller. Marquez keeps things moving, and King grounds the movie nicely with a well-modulated performance. Marquez also does near-futurism on a budget pretty well. In one of the film’s most sophisticated touches, the app loads with a startup sound that is the perfect mix of soothing and insidious. But Marquez gives far too little space to his own ideas, allowing the narrative to drive the film at every turn. When the film comes around to its final twist, the revelation is both predictable and disappointing, turning “Reversion” into a rather bland statement on memory — each of us remembers what we choose to remember; that’s how we define ourselves; et cetera, et cetera — when it could have dug deeper into the perfidious messaging of the tech elite, that our lives would all be better if we just handed them over to the right app.

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