PLOT: When three grad student friends invent mind-reading technology, they find their personal lives and their safety at risk. As one would expect, the three discover that somebody out there has plans for their invention that could jeopardize the entire world.
REVIEW: LISTENING is a fascinating premise. What if we were truly able to read each others thoughts? What kind of power could that bring? And what happens when something of great power is created and ultimately corrupted? That is the story behind the independent science fiction feature written and directed by Khalil Sullins. And as provocative as the idea may be, one thing the film is missing is a sense of urgency or suspense. All too often the narrative is dragged down by melodrama and a serious lack of energy. This is a cerebral tale that has a few moments of true and unique invention, yet it cant quite live up to its promise.
Thomas Stroppel is David Thorogood. He is a grad student that is far smarter than even his professors. He, along with his best friend Ryan Cates (Artie Ahr), are on the verge of inventing the very real power of telepathy. And while they are so close, something is missing to truly bring this invention to life. That all changes when they meet Jordan (Amber Marie Bollinger), a beautiful genius who helps the two friends finally break through. Unfortunately for both Ryan and David, their personal lives are getting in the way. Both are broke and are forced to make desperate choices to fund their project. For David, his wife and child suffer. And for Ryan, it is the stress of taking care of his ailing grandmother that drives him to take risks.
As the story progresses into a far better constructed second half, we find that some dangerous men want to use the technology theyve discovered. While it may be a familiar plot device, it helps build momentum that was nearly non-existent for the first half. The men in suit bad guys dont really offer much, but at least the story is heading somewhere. Until then, the plot meanders around the two and the loved ones in their lives. When a slight twist comes into play, it livens things up just a bit. It also helps to sort out the family drama that tends to drag the already slow pace. It is a shame really, as I actually liked Davids wife Melanie (Christine Haeberman). If only the script had given her the chance to be more than a cold and unsatisfied spouse. Thankfully, she does a nice job with what she has.
While certainly not a perfect film, there is much to be admired in the way Sullins creates his world. This is an beautifully shot feature, one that relishes its style. The camerawork is especially well done with a number of shots that are brilliantly displayed. While the script didnt always work for me, visually there is much to be respected here. The use of desaturated color is especially effective, as is the unusually bright red room where a group of men collect thoughts from employees. The filmmaker has created an incredibly bleak world that is not terribly fanciful nor is it improbable. It also helps that there is a some serious creativity when it comes to the mind reading sequences.
When it comes to the cast, it was really hard to root for both Ahr and Stroppel. The two actors do a fine enough job, but they dont quite connect to the material. It was difficult to believe either of the two young men were at genius level. Perhaps it was simply the script as opposed to their performance, but it was very difficult to really feel much of anything for the films protagonists. The women - specifically Amber Marie Bollinger - fare better. If you cant connect to the leads in a film like this it is especially difficult to be drawn into their plight. The idea of the two struggling to survive didnt really do much, nor did the possibility of a love triangle - although there is a reason for that I suppose.
LISTENING is an ambitious project. It has several elements that could have been far better than they ultimately ended up being. That said, if you are looking for an original feature that is willing to take a chance, this might interest you. If only the actors had a stronger connection to the material, and perhaps they had avoided getting too involved in a near soap opera mentality. Taking into consideration the budget there are a few fascinating ideas. At the very least you have to applaud Khalil Sullins for his attempts. LISTENING is a bit dull, but at least it lets us in on a director that has ambitions that exceed this limited budget. Perhaps his next feature will really give him a chance to shine.