EMPATHY, INC. is the latest film from director Yedidya Gorsetman, which saw its World Premiere at the Cinepocalypse Film Festival this past Sunday. The film, which is presented in black and white, takes a unique stab at the world of VR (virtual reality) with horrifying consequences. It stars Zack Robidas (Mozart in the Jungle), Kathy Searle (Baby Mama), Jay Klaitz (Vinyl), and Eric Berryman (Barry).
Venture capitalist Joel (Robidas) has just lost everything after he learned his business partner has screwed the company out of a multi-million deal. Having no other choice, he and his wife Jessica (Searle), an aspiring actress, move back in with her parents to start their lives over from scratch. After an argument breaks out between Joel and his in-laws, he seeks solace at a neighborhood bar where he runs into his old friend, Nicolaus (Berryman), who offers him a business proposition. Nicolaus and his business partner Lester (Klaitz) have created a new VR technology titled XVR – Xtreme Virtual Reality and are looking for investors to get in on the ground floor of their company, Empathy, Inc. Nicolaus promises that this VR technology is unlike anything else on the market as it offers the most realistic experiences for those wanting to know what life is like for the less fortunate. Joel sees the huge potential that this experience has and immediately decides to invest; however, he soon discovers just how dangerous and sinister the creators of this technology truly are.
As someone who has begun to immerse themselves in the world of VR, I was very excited to check out this film. Shot beautifully in black and white, the film conveys a feeling of ominous foreboding and trepidation early on. What I loved most about the film, however, was the story, specifically in how writer Mark Leidner showcased the length wealthy people will go to feel empathy. Even though EMPATHY, INC. is a vastly different film from the gorefest of Hostel, what I loved about Eli Roth’s film was the same thing I loved about EMPATHY – it shows what money can buy if you look hard enough. The film also does a fantastic job of showing how deceptive, dangerous, and vicious people can be, especially when money is involved. Though there are no supernatural monsters in this film, one could argue that some of the main characters do a good enough job of showcasing how horrific humanity can be.
In terms of acting, I think there could have been some improvements, but that may be due to some of the writing and not the talent of the actors. With that said, I enjoyed what each of the characters brought to the table but I found myself being drawn to both Zack Robidas and Jay Klaitz performances. Not only did they both feed off of each other wonderfully, I also think viewers will be able to identify a bit of themselves in each of their characters. Their interaction was definitely the most dynamic within the film, especially after we find out what the VR is being used for, the only downfall being that the other characters were easily forgettable – which is a damn shame.
My only real critique of this film had to do with the ending. As much as I loved the overarching themes that were presented, I felt like the storyline became a bit convoluted towards the end, resulting in a climax that could have been much more impactful. With all that said, there is still a lot to enjoy with this film as it raises some important moral questions that will stay with you long after the film has ended while also making you wonder just how far VR technology could possibly go.