A geneticist wakes up from an accident with only fragments of his memory is forced to relearn who he is via his twin brother. But as he digs deeper, he discovers he might not be who he thought at all.
What begins as perhaps a confused identity thriller rapidly becomes a thought provoking, deep, and sometimes poignant study in humanity and how our experiences define us. One might have low expectations when the opening sequence of production companies involved is longer than the entirety of some short films, and it certainly can set one up for low expectations. That is just a bit of unintentional misdirection that serves to strengthen the impact of the film.
Filled with dreamlike images and memories, as well as subtle (and not so subtle) symbolism, this is a movie that grips the thinking mind, holds it firm, and drags it along as it asks a number of questions. Holding humanity up to a mirror and asking what makes us who we are while showing us what we could easily become; the Reconstruction of William Zero is a pleasant surprise.
There are a number of reveals spaced out through the movie, but the first is telegraphed so blatantly that it discussing it here is not much of a spoiler. The movie opens with a family scene, so common in our world, of an overworked father, half paying attention as he sleepwalks through his family life while focusing on his job. This cuts in and out amongst home movie scenes as the morning unfolds and ends in tragedy caused my negligence and lack of attention. While obvious in retrospect, it isn’t something that is telegraphed and is a key moment in the film. It is the inspiration of what is to follow.
We cut to a man waking in a bed, a strange device on his head. Another man moves in to assist him. They are identical, and are introduced to us as identical twins, one of whom has suffered a brain injury during a car wreck. The holes in his memory are odd, not knowing how to eat cereal, not understanding how a knock-knock joke works, his child-like delight at hearing one for the first time. These are not the sorts of gaps commonly caused by amnesia.
It is instantly suspicious and there is no real attempt to conceal the fact that the man waking is actually a clone. We are made aware so that, as we watch William’s discovery 20 minutes in, we feel for him. Already knowing what he will find we can instead concentrate on the minutia of what he discovers; the devil is in the details. His first discovery gives us our second big reveal, one that we also may half expect but, again, allows us to pay attention to how things continue to unfold.
This plays out in a world so voyeuristic that we, those watching the film, are almost the least invasive. A stranger on bicycle, a man in a dark sedan, a nosy neighbor, security forces, all exist at the edge of William’s perception, watching him, studying him, each with their own reasons and agendas. While these scenes of moderate discord play out, there is not “action” per se. This is more of a cerebral voyage than a visceral one. While there are a small number of deaths, they are not gratuitous (or fully on screen) and advance our understanding of the remaining characters rather than simply serving to thump on how “evil” someone is.
If you lost everything, how far would you go for the one you love? How far is too far? What makes us unique? These are issues wrestled with by William as he seeks to reconstruct himself from the memories of a shattered man.
The cast is absolutely superb. Conal Byrne gives a powerful and believable performace as the Williams, each being unique in how they behave and move. Each clearly identifiable (save for when one is intentionally masquerading as another). He brings emotional depth to the role that is crucial to the film and without which this review would be far different. Adam Fristoe truly stands out as the sinister and looming presence of Mr. Langly, one of the “men from upstairs”, internal security for the genetics lab at the center of the story. While only a relatively small role, it is played as if it were a lead, every moment filled with menace.
The ending, while fitting, does lack any true punch. We can see it coming and half expect it to happen earlier in the film. It is this flaw that drops this film by perhaps a half star. The end still has some emotional depth, but it doesn’t have the impact one would want from such a film. After delving so deeply, after subjecting us to introspection as a spectator sport, this movie deserved a tighter ending. Still, it is gripping from beginning to end, just know what you are getting into. This is not a horror film, nor action, nor really science fiction. It is a drama about humanity, dark and brooding, with flashes of violence, but the true focus is ourselves and our humanity.
Four out of five stars.