Radius (2017)

Radius first published by SciFiNow

Partners in both marriage and filmmaking, Caroline Labrèche and Steeve Léonard (Sans dessein, 2009) have co-written and co-directed a work about a strange kind of tie that binds, as two (maybe) strangers, both suffering amnesia after a car accident and unable to remember who they are and how they came to be together, find themselves with two very different degrees of connection.

A man (Diego Klattenhoff) wakes besides a flipped pickup truck just outside Woodmore County. He is apparently without serious external injury, but unable to recall even his own name – Liam Hartwell – until he checks his ID. As he heads into town on foot, everyone he encounters either is dead or dies right before his eyes. Suspecting some kind of fatal virus, Liam soon works out that he is its preternatural epicentre, causing the instant death of anyone who comes within 30 feet of him. Anyone, that is, except ‘Jane Doe’ (Charlotte Sullivan), another amnesiac who appears uniquely, mysteriously immune to his murderous effect.

“The girl – the one in the car – the one that died – that was me,” Liam confesses, by way of explanation, to the incredulous Jane. “I didn’t know about it. I mean, I didn’t do it on purpose, I didn’t even know I was doing it… Killing them. It was like I was sucking the life out of them just by coming close.” Jane is horrified, and wants to get as far away from Liam as possible – until she discovers that her presence within his immediate radius serves as an antidote, ensuring that nobody else near him is affected or killed. As they try to remember what happened before the crash (revealed gradually to both of them in impressionistic flashbacks), they must stay close together if they are to prevent further casualties. But do they both want that?

Radius plays out, at least at first, as a mannered sci-fi variant on Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958), with its two central characters forced to work together not by physical chains but by the simple ethical imperative not to kill. Yet no matter whether the bolt out of the blue that has caused their condition is of alien origin or (in a film full of crossroads, crossing signs and other cruciform imagery) divine, it also comes with a psychological resonance, requiring as it does that a literally, lethally toxic male renegotiate his sense of proximity to or separation from the rest of society – with Jane, who has her own uncanny connections to death, the catalyst for Liam recognising and confronting both himself and the radiating impact of his actions.

Set in a rural backroads limbo, Radius is a slow-burn moral parable, driving its high-concept premise towards a final reveal (in a lakeside cabin) that is not only genuinely satisfying, but might well have viewers heading back several times along those winding narrative roadways before arriving at their last judgment.

strap: In this high-concept, slow-burn moral parable, proximity kills.

© Anton Bitel