EMPATHY, INC. *** USA 2018 Dir: Yedidya Gorsetman. 97 mins
Married couple Joel (Zack Robidas) and Jessica (Kathy Searle) have moved in with Jessica’s parents after Joel loses his company to a financial scandal. Desperate for work, Joel turns to an old friend, Nicolaus (Eric Berryman), who has let him in on a potential investment opportunity with a startup company known as Empathy, Inc. Utilizing a new form of virtual reality technology created by an unhinged man named Lester (Jay Klaitz), Empathy Inc. offers wealthy customers the chance to experience life at its worst in order to appreciate the life that they have. Joel is leery about the concept until he tries it himself and comes out a new man. But when Joel discovers the truth behind the technology in which he has invested his in-laws’ money, he attempts to distance himself from all association with Empathy Inc., with deadly consequences.
Shot in black and white, this film has a very stylistic look which matches its sinister tone. Joel is not a hero that you can root for until the story’s final moments. The strongest performance comes from Klaitz, who, without giving anything away, performs a surprising amount of emotionally heavy lifting. The sci-fi elements are passable, though may have been more convincing with better technology props and graphics. Also, the idea of embodying the virtual reality life of another person left me unconvinced that the experience would do anything for a person’s happiness but would rather supply them with an unhealthy dose of PTSD. However, Robidas sells it well midway through the film, demonstrating how much self-worth he puts into his social and financial status. Though a somewhat slow story that misses a few of the marks that it tries to hit, this film definitely presents some interesting moral questions in a unique and stylish story that ultimately sticks the landing.
Review by Laura Smith