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"Metropia": An Underwhelming Underground

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Metropia takes us into the alternate near-future of 2024 Europe, sometime after the depletion of our natural resources and a severe economic crash. A massive subway network has emerged, connecting the all of the countries throughout the continent. Roger, our paranoid and emotionally castrated protagonist, swears his mind is invaded by a stranger’s voice whenever riding the Metro and avoids taking it to his non-descript call center job whenever possible. One day, his bike is destroyed and he’s forced to take the subway and uncovers a vast conspiracy to invade the minds of the populace.

According to director Tarik Saleh, the inspiration of the film stems from the philosophy behind a prison design created by theorist Jeremy Bentham known as The Panopticon. It was conceived as a circular building, allowing inspectors to observe all prisoners from a central location without themselves being observed. The idea being that this design would create the illusion of constant scrutiny and prisoners would alter their behavior accordingly.

Sounds interesting, no? Unfortunately, the film never really lives up to that premise. It fails because it never achieves that panoptic effect. The populace is largely unaware that it is being watched and still has no idea by the film’s end. If that’s not the case, the film never makes this clear. The pacing of the film is so mind-numbingly slow it eliminates any potential suspense that might have existed otherwise. The plot doesn’t make any substantial move forward until 37 minutes into the film, when someone finally delivers the clichéd line, “So, do you think you can handle the truth?” to our protagonist, and doesn’t pick up again until the 70 minute mark.

Roger, the film’s lead, is so emotionally distant and self-loathing that it is impossible to allow yourself to become invested in his efforts to survive. In fact, no character in the film feels fleshed out. The reasons behind their involvement in the events of this film are never explained. You never really learn what the corporation is looking to gain by attempting to get into the minds of everyone and whatever is revealed of the plan seems poorly thought out.

Nano-machines gain access to an individual’s mind. One corporation representative seems to be assigned to each individual in the experiment. The subject sporadically hears a strange man or woman’s voice. It’s only when that individual steps into the Metro that the person on the other end has a better connection with them. Even then, they can only talk to them. The story briefly touches on the concept of mind control through this technology, but no time is given to showing that this is possible. At best they seem to be able to pretend that they are the subject’s inner monologue and have an involved conversation as to why a questionable course of action should be followed. It’s like reading off a laundry list of inefficient ways to begin your quest towards world domination. And don’t let the sunrise at the end fool you; there is no sense of resolution or change for the world in any direction, good or bad. The ending is entirely ambiguous.

I found the film visually unappealing in degrees. I was able to appreciate that a great deal of work went into the visuals, even when I did not find them appealing myself. The backgrounds used in the film are very detailed. Everything feels grimy. Extensive blues and grays are used to create a noir feel. Although when this limited palette is coupled with the extremely slow moving story, it makes it difficult to maintain focus for the film’s entire 86 minute run.

The characters were animated to achieve a stop-motion effect. It’s not pretty, but it serves the purposes of the story. The designs were created using altered photographs, sort of a moving photo montage. The amount of work that must have gone into achieving the animation of these designs is quite impressive. A great deal of focus is placed on the eyes, with other physical attributes being less in proportion than you would expect from something with a head that close to human. The result is something edging towards the uncomfortable. I’m sure that’s what they were going for. However, the designs, which I found too reminiscent of an old Steve Madden print campaign, unsettled me in a manner that did not bring me further into the world of the film.

There’s a short ad at the beginning of the DVD that cannot be skipped. All subsequent previews can be passed by. The special features include two featurettes called My Tribeca Story (2:13) and On the Red Carpet with Metropia (2:51). Metropia is the kind of film where you would really want to learn exactly what went into constructing its world and neither of the featurettes are long enough to provide anything satisfying. Sound is offered in 5.1 Surround and Stereo, with no subtitles available.

I went into this film with high expectations. It’s unfortunate that Metropia, which bills itself as a psychological sci-fi thriller, never accomplishes any tangible level of excitement or suspense and that the DVDs offerings are too sparse to make this worthy of more than a rental. More behind-the-scenes information is available through the film’s website. The DVD is currently available for purchase through amazon.com for $18.99.

Amazon ASIN: B003VWC4QW