“It’s complicated,” is a recurring line in Kemo Diatta’s feature debut Interface, often delivered in response to characters seeking explanations for what on earth is going on. Not only does the film launch us at its opening in medias res, as two people on a rooftop in a futuristic neon-lit city that looks right out of Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (2017) suddenly leap through a portal into a basement laboratory where three others are waiting for them, but the sequence is played and replayed, backwards and forwards in time. For all its impenetrability in the moment, the prologue makes clear that in this film, spatiotemporal norms are out the window.
Adding to this initial confusion, Interface is full of uncanny doublings. For it is a tale of two sisters, Claire (Samm Wiechec) and Kaley (Makenna Perkal), whose estranged mother Michelle (Robyne Richards) has long since started her own second family. Now ill and in need of a kidney transplant that Claire is reluctant to give to someone who has made herself a virtual stranger, Michelle has slipped into a coma – and there is a second, unrelated character, also in a coma. This is the daughter of Mr Otto Palmer (Michael Sigler), who, in his need to keep paying her and her mother’s hospital bills, has broken bad, turning not just to organised crime but to a particularly vicious brand of psychopathy.
Mr Palmer’s wife and daughter were gravely injured, and Claire and Kaley’s father killed, in two separate car accidents – one of which was caused by Palmer himself, the other by the contrite, conscience-stricken Peter (Havon Baraka) who goes from secretly to openly helping the sisters in their time of need. The two car crashes aside, there will also be a collision of two entirely different technologies, as both parties race to wake their loved ones from comas before it is too late.
First there is the prototype ‘Interface’ device which, in theory, allows its user to communicate via a headset with the subconscious of someone in a coma. Yet the tech’s inventor Dr Feregamo (Ernie Stifel) died before he could complete it, and his colleague Dr Majed (Andrew Vela) lacks the know-how to get it working fast – which leads to the film’s second kind of sci-fi tech. Before his death, Claire and Kaley’s father had built in their basement a working but dangerous machine that opens portals to parallel universes that are, strangely, out of temporal synch with each other. So with help from Peter and his best friend Mark (Joshua Weyers), the sisters formulate the not altogether economic plan to steal Interface, and to find an alternative world where a still living Feregamo can get the device fully working, so that Claire can make contact with Michelle and hopefully draw her out of her coma.
“You made a mistake, it’s ok to make mistakes, no one is perfect,” Claire will tell Peter – and yet with Mr Palmer’s murderous goons (Christopher J. Robinson, Taj Whitt-Ordone) ever on their tails in a transdimensional chase, the quantum entanglement of these multiple doppelgängers will somehow merge to create a world of redemption and reconciliation as close to perfect as possible, even if the viewer will not be entirely sure how, or even if, it all fits together.
It is indeed complicated, and at its best when it is chaotically conflating the parallel-world portals of John V. Soto’s Alpha Gateway (2018), James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence (2014), Isaac Ezban’s Parallel (2018) and Gaurav Seth’s Entangled (2019) with the subconscious-surfing apparatus of Tarsem Singh’s The Cell (2000), Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) and Neill Blomkamp’s Demonic (2021). Yet it is also, ultimately, a human story about the mending of broken families, and this aspect of Interface is let down by dramatis personae who never feel real or believable enough to anchor all the weightless variables of the film’s high-concept happenings.
It is understandable that a ruthless criminal like Mr Palmer would threaten the life of Majed’s daughter to get what he wants, but would Claire and her friends – including the entirely uninvolved Mark – really do the same? And how likely is it that a loving father like Majed would later brush off such intimidation – backed up with a gun – as though it were nothing? Where exactly did Peter acquire his immense martial arts skills? Would a young black man willingly pretend to be a hostage taker in front of a real, armed white cop – in the United States, of all places, where African-Americans are sometimes killed by law officers merely for the crime of breathing? And in what parallel universe would he and a pal then be able just to slip unnoticed out the window of a house surrounded by policemen and a SWAT unit?
All these things are necessary to advance the story, but make little sense at the level of character – and whether they are confused by quantum interference from the multiple versions of themselves, or just by the ingenious yet increasingly improbable convolutions of Diatta and Rebecca Norris’ screenplay, the characters too often seem like manipulated mannequins, automatically delivering their lines and executing their actions with little conviction. Maybe it is better just to leave these thoughts aside and go along, like them, for the wild ride that has been prescribed – but if you don’t find the passengers credible, you may also struggle to buy their final destination.
Here, everything ultimately settles upon a benignly karmic instance of the multiverse where a certain providence – call it the providence of plotting – seems to fall into place alongside all the weird science. In the end the fraught interplay between Claire and Michelle, the moral crux of the film and as complicated as any mother-daughter relationship, is definitely much improved on what it was – perhaps even the best that it can be, in the best of all possible worlds. To accept that this is how things must and should turn out requires from the viewer a leap of faith backwards and forwards through the various portals of the film’s elaborate narrative machinery. Maybe, as its characters gradually shift towards principles of self-sacrifice, forgiveness and love, and in so doing create a better universe for themselves, Interface might equally have been titled Interfaith…
strap: Kemo Diatta’s feature debut is a multiverse sci-fi crammed with complicated plotting, while lacking in credible characters
© Anton Bitel