A drug that alters perceptions during trauma and stress, is being advertised as a cure for socio-political tensions. Several couples volunteer for human trials but end up with more than they bargained for.
As fans of horror, we’re all fully versed in the traditional tropes of the genre; your werewolves, vampires, zombies, hockey-masked undead loons and all the rest. And while they are all obviously staples for a reason, providing us with chills aplenty for many a year, sometimes the most frightening movies stem from subjects based in reality rather than fantasy: things that most of us have real-world knowledge and experience of. This grounding in reality means that we can relate to movies like this on a personal level, which makes their impact all the more lingering and frightening.
One such sub-genre is the drug trip horror; there have been quite a few of these over the years, going all the way back to the – now charmingly naive – education films of the fifties and sixties, warning impressionable teens of the day about the horrors of Mary Jane and her herbal and chemical friends: and in every decade since, right up to some modern classics like Altered States, Jacob’s Ladder, Requiem For A Dream and even Fede Alvarez’ visceral update of Evil Dead from 2013. There are also quite a few that didn’t reach quite-so-classic-status, like Shrooms, Lovely Molly and Banshee Chapter.
Which brings us to one of the latest entries in the genre; 2017’s Altered Perception from director Kate Rees Davies; where abouts on the scale does this one sit? Well, unfortunately it’s got to be somewhere near the bottom of the pile for me. The uncomplicated plot concerns a group of medical test subjects, who have volunteered to undergo treatment from an independent company, with an experimental new drug called DTP aimed at curtailing hostility in humans. Three different couples have signed up for the program: Andrew and Lorie, Emily and Beth, and Steve and Kristina.
It’s fair to say that all three have more than their share of problems – Lorie is an ex-prostitute and Andrew a lawyer, and the two catfight constantly before turning to rampant make-up sex; Emily and Beth are hoping to get married, the fly in the ointment being Emily’s paranoia that Beth is actually straight, fuelled in part by Beth’s unsubstantiated claim of being raped in the past by Emily’s sleazy brother Justin; whereas Steve’s job in the movie industry finds him at odds with Kristina’s role as a housewife, especially with her pervasive lack of trust and constant suspicions about him cheating on her.
The movie follows a non-linear path, opening with some tragic foreshadowed events that will mark decisive points later on in the movie; and the rest is split between the three couples showing how the drug is affecting their relationships on a daily basis, and a boardroom meeting taking place after the movie’s events during which the company responsible for the drug is being audited and held to account. It’s a neat and clever narrative, which manages to showcase the entire sequence of events without giving away too much at any one time; footage of the worsening side-effects is shown during the audit which fills in some of the gaps.
Unfortunately, this narrative is not enough to keep the movie afloat on its own; and it’s dragged down by a number of factors. Not least are the characters; every single one of them is unlikeable and narcissistic to the point of irritation, with multiple character flaws that they project onto one another at every opportunity. Watching these people take their issues out on their partners could have made for at least semi-compulsive viewing, but the actors bringing them to life are all uniformly unconvincing in their roles. It doesn’t help that the movie is filmed in a very dry, almost made-for-TV or soap opera manner, with no sense of style to the shots or framing.
Much of the dialogue is bland, focusing on mundane platitudes, and crashingly heavy on exposition. But perhaps the biggest hurdle the movie fails to jump is the fact that pretty much nothing of note happens throughout its length; there is one moment of poorly executed gore and that’s about your lot.
There’s no tension or impetus to the movie, and the ending credits are about the biggest treat it has in store for the viewer. It’s a shame as buried deep somewhere is a valid message, concerning the companies rushing to trial with experimental drugs, eager to place fistfuls of cash before the safety of the volunteers willing to undergo testing; does the almighty dollar trump the lives of the people involved? But unfortunately the movie just isn’t competent enough to leave an impression and the message is watered down as a result.