It’s the not-too-distant future. Set in a sprawling California metropolis, skyscrapers and neon-drenched architecture pollute the horizon. A pulsating, dynamic synth score sets the mood for a grimy web of crime, corruption, and technology. This all may sound familiar, but no, this is not Blade Runner. Welcome to the world of THE TANGLE.
Humanity has moved beyond the Internet that we are familiar with. Its replacement comes in the form of “The Tangle” – an Internet for, well, everyone. It’s a network of people; everyone around the globe is connected to it through nanobots, which can be found in the Earth, air, water, and blood. Once hooked up to the server, you have instant access to a literal world of opportunities. As the film describes it, “you could count the moles on the back of a Sherpa on Everest from your couch.”
There hasn’t been a murder since The Tangle was launched. A government agency known as ASP monitors Tangles from safe rooms that are cut off from the network, ensuring that everything is working properly. Acting as a benevolent guardian of sorts, The Tangle protects people. Think of it as an extra reflex that prevents people from hurting one another or accidentally injuring themselves. With technology such as this, violent crime should no longer exist.
So why is it that the body of Margot Foster, an ASP agent, was found dead, presumably murdered, in an abandoned speakeasy? With little to no evidence other than a table where her head had been repeatedly bashed into it, how could something like this have happened? Who’s responsible?
Inside one of these safe rooms, an investigation takes place. Two ASP agents/married couple Edward and Laurel (Christopher Soren Kelly and Jessica Graham) interrogate Carter Carmine (Joshua Britton), believing him to be the prime suspect in the murder. Thanks to The Tangle, Edward and Laurel are able to trace Carter’s whereabouts with hyper-specific accuracy. What could he be hiding from them? As is typically the case with these types of stories, things are never black and white, and we soon learn that these three share a history, as they were all involved in the creation of The Tangle. As facts and motives are unveiled, the investigation twists and turns, becoming increasingly complex throughout the 99-minute runtime.
Written, produced, directed, and edited by Christopher Soren Kelly, the microbudget feature aims to combine the ambition of a Ridley Scott science-fiction blockbuster with hardboiled 1940’s noir. It makes for an intriguing pair, particularly since this critic is very much a fan of both of these individual styles. For much of the film, they gel together nicely, as the film’s structure mimics classic Hollywood murder mysteries and chamber pieces. The dialogue, however, is also hugely inspired by this era, and that’s where the tone sometimes fails to stick the landing, as phrases like “shut your flapping trap” can come across as silly during what are otherwise compelling conflicts and revelations in a highly futuristic setting.
Handsomely shot by Robert Muratore, THE TANGLE’s investigation sequences are moody thanks to some dank, shadowy film noir lighting, while the outside world offers a welcome high-tech sci-fi contrast to break things up. Production Designer Eric Thorne works in tandem with the cinematography to capture two very different atmospheres that somehow manage to feel part of the same universe.
Despite taking place almost entirely in one room, the film feels simultaneously huge and intimate. The world-building can seem like a lot to take in when characters are spitting out exposition at rapid-fire speed, but it’s clear that a great amount of thought went into designing this universe and the way it operates. The few moments when the action takes place outside of the safe room are welcome and you can tell that the team spent every penny to make this thing look and sound professional.
For the things that THE TANGLE does well, one can’t help but wish that certain ideas and mechanics had been more thoroughly explored. There’s no denying that this is a complex universe and it’s hard not to wonder what else we’re not seeing. Because of the structure, it can feel as though some of the major sci-fi elements take a backseat to the central mystery at hand. While this ambiguity may be purposeful, it’s intriguing to ponder what a sequel, spinoff, or what-have-you could look like.
What’s here though makes for an admirable little project. Its lyrical approach to storytelling and sticky tonal issues won’t work for everyone, but fans of bold indie sci-fi just might find themselves caught in the web of Kelly’s debut feature.
Damn Warrior Productions In Association with SitkaBlu Productions present THE TANGLE, on Video On Demand on March 19, 2021.