SYNTHETIC_MAN_POSTER

Writer-producer-director (and everything else) John R. Hand’s The Synthetic Man is less a coherently narrative film than a filmed reflection on the writing process.  Though The Synthetic Man resists easy summary, it is generally concerned with self-absorption, boredom, paranoia, sexual longing, and various creative processes, both natural and unnatural, human and alien.

Framing its wildly scattershot content are scenes of an obese and probably insane young woman (April Hand) who in her directionless isolation decides to write a (really bad) science fiction novel in a spiral notebook.  Her initial inspiration is a rape fantasy nightmare in which she is groped and menaced while sleeping by an unseen knife-wielding visitor (Mike Engle).  This, she decides, is the Synthetic Man, who will figure as a character in her novel.

The woman appears to have no family or friends in her life, and certainly no significant other.  Furthermore, the way she rubs her notebook and presses it to her bosom suggests that the novel is just a pitiable exercise in redirected sexual energy.  Everything in her life and in The Synthetic Man as a whole suggests alienation and disconnect, from the sterile interiors of her home and other places to the snow on her television and the prophylactic barriers of fantasy, sleep, gloves, voice distortion, and video to all real human contact.

The material dramatizing her novel is quite the mess, with one highlight being the hero, Richard (Jeff Hartley), crawling around in a parking lot, abducting an old woman, and dragging her into the woods for a thrashing.  The idea of the story (no doubt derived from novels its dilettante author perused at the library) is that ancient aliens have planted secret agents among humanity, which is constantly under surveillance and occasionally falls prey to synthetic rape-seeding.  The latter event, depicted graphically (and to hilarious effect) during The Synthetic Man‘s concluding moments, is probably what viewers will most likely be discussing afterward.

One wishes the film as a whole had been as elegantly suggestive as the opening and closing creditscapes, which, graced by the electronic music of “The Greys” (Mr. Hand again) are fairly hypnotic as the introductory verses of Genesis are delivered in a distant, processed drone (director Hand giving Himself a too-big pat on the back, perhaps?).  The discordant sound design of these and other moments may be this self-consciously spare film’s finest asset.

If The Synthetic Man makes anything clear, however, it is that John R. Hand is a fiercely independent artist little concerned with what will appeal to a broad audience of conventional tastes or satisfy genre fan expectations.  Too cheap, self-absorbed, unfriendly, and uneventful an effort to be of interest to the typical science fiction, horror, or exploitation aficionado, this uncategorizable film will probably only appeal to a weird and very limited audience of seekers after the odd and independent.

1.5 of 5 possible stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Synthetic Man is:

5. Antiwar.  “Blessed are the peacemakers . . .”

4. Anti-obesity.  April Hand’s gawking, self-mocking performance does little to humanize her difficult character, who remains an unengagingly lethargic and grotesque figure througout.

3. Anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn).  Omaru (Esaw Parker Jr.), a black cosmic warrior, relates the origin of all suffering in the world as stemming from the machinations of an “evil race” (whites, no doubt) who bequeathed “gifts of hate and prejudice” to humanity.

2. Statist.  “Everybody’s being watched by someone – their parents, their government, their friends,” the aspiring writer muses in her tub.  “They’re all together.  They’re all related [. . .] What if we were all being watched by aliens?”  Distrust of the government and fears of something like an omnipresent New World Order are thus equated with kooky UFO talk and made the stuff of a lonely fat girl’s delusions.  The effect of her musings is to discredit those who question authority – a depiction that would likely meet with the approval of Cass Sunstein.

1. Sexist!  Women, especially undesirable ones, secretly long to be raped, knifed, or tied to trees and mistreated.

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