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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Indie Screener Grab Bag: Repeaters

Now that we have a flatscreen and DVD player installed in our bedroom, I can actually watch screeners at home with something approximating a semi-theatrical experience, which is better for most films than watching them on my portable mini-DVD player.

So, catching up with some screeners I’ve been watching of late … Henceforth, I’ll be posting more reviews of indie films that don’t fall under the “Awards Watch” header here on Film Essent under the header “Indie Screener Grab Bag.” If you’re an independent filmmaker and have a film you’d like me to check out, drop me a line.



Dir. Carl Bessai

Repeaters played at TIFF in the “Special Presentations” section of the fest, and I finally managed to catch up with it on a screener at home. To be honest, I wasn’t with this film for the first third or so … my fiance, who was watching it with me, summed it up within the first couple minutes as “So this is basically Groundhog Day in a rehab center?” … which is kind of what it feels like at first.

Then it takes a sharp left turn at “More Interesting,” which for me made it worth writing up. So here you go.

The basic setup of Repeaters is, in fact, very much like Groundhog Day: three 20-somethings at a rehab center (unclear on whether they are compelled to be there or there by choice, but it kind of implies the former) experience some sort of electrical shock that disrupts the flow of the space-time continuum, causing them to experience the same day over and over again. This in and of itself is not particularly original or interesting, but the way in which the character arcs shift as a result of this IS interesting, and there are some solid performances here that merit some recognition.

One thing Bessai does that’s very smart is to take what’s essentially a sci-fi concept and not bog the film heavily with a lot of made-up scientific whatnot that opens the door for people to say things like, “In a real disruption of the space-time continuum, the laws of physics would dictate blah blah blah…” If you’re making a low-budget indie film (which this presumably was), minimizing that sort of thing can go a long ways toward keeping your story interesting while also allowing you to create your own laws of space-time for the purpose of your story.

So, it’s Wednesday in the rehab center, and what we have here are our three main characters, Kyle (Dustin Milligan), Sonia (Amanda Crew) and Michael (Richard De Klerk), on the day that things start going awry. They’ve reached the stage of the “steps” of the program where they are supposed to make amends to the people they’ve hurt with their addiction. They all have day passes so they can go and and, presumably, hunt their people down and attempt to reach out to make amends to them, and then they have to report back to group on how that went.

And the nature of storytelling (or at least, good storytelling) being what it is, it’s not really a spoiler to say that this exercise doesn’t go well for our three protagonists. If it did, there wouldn’t be much need of telling their story, would there? Then this weird time loop thing happens, and all three of them wake up in the morning to find that they are still stuck in Wednesday. Imagine being stuck forever in a permanent Wednesday … never quite getting over the hump, never reaching the weekend. I wouldn’t mind getting stuck on a nice fall Saturday so much, but Wednesday?

Part of what’s interesting about the way in which things unfold is that Kyle, Sonia and Michael are able to change the way in which they do things, presumably without affecting the future. The script doesn’t really delve into the nature of non-linearity and time travel and how mucking about in the past/present might impact the future, which sci-fi purists might consider to be a weakness.

This story is much more interested in exploring the moral implications of how you would choose to live your life if you could get away with anything — anything at all — and know that it didn’t really matter, because the day would just keep resetting over and over again. Because it doesn’t deal much with ideas around multiple timelines and non-linearity, it doesn’t really delve much into whether it’s only for Kyle, Sonia and Michael that things keep resetting and whether the actions they take in subsequent “repeats” has any kind of cumulative impact on future time-paths — a bit of a weakness in my book but it might not be in yours.

The character of Michael is used to explore ideas of moral ambiguity: to what extent is it acceptable to commit morally questionable, even reprehensible acts, if you think that what you’re doing doesn’t matter in the long run? What sets us apart from animals, what defines our humanity? And are the boundaries that determine right and wrong, good and evil, malleable or absolute?

This is ambitious philosophical ground to explore in a film, and I have to give credit to everyone involved for taking on something so intellectually challenging (the equally intriguing Primer dealt with similar ideas in a somewhat different way). All three leads are solid, but de Klerk (also a producer on the film) gives a particularly chilling performance that charts Michael’s moral backsliding with precise, measured beats.

While I wouldn’t call Repeaters exceptionally polished — words like gritty and edgy come more to mind — it also feels like the somewhat unsettled, rough feel of the film is a deliberate choice that works pretty well. Stick with it through the deceptively cheesy set-up, and you’ll be rewarded with a thoughtful and compelling (if rather grim) exploration of morality and humanity.

As an aside, Repeaters would make an excellent late night indie sci-fi double-feature along with Primer. Alamo Drafthouse, if you ever program that, shoot me an email. That and a five-dollar milkshake might just justify a weekend trip to Austin.

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One Response to “Indie Screener Grab Bag: Repeaters”

  1. Keil Shults says:

    What’s a DVD player?

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon