Other Worlds Austin: Other Halves
Start-up shocker is a contentious joy
By Richard Whittaker,
4:50PM, Tue. Dec. 8, 2015
There's always something giddily exciting about a film that splits audiences. And we're not talking dropping The Notebook's core demos in front of A Serbian Film. San Francisco-set indie techno-horror office comedy Other Halves is an unashamed crowd divider.
In the indie flick, which received its Texas premiere at the Other Worlds Austin fest, the eponymous Other Halves is an app. It's being developed in a small San Francisco start-up by a team of three female coders (Lauren Lakis, Melanie Friedrich, and Mercedes Manning), their male programming colleague (Sam Schwikert), and their in-house female designer (Megan Hui). They're on the eve of launching the ultimate dating app, one that trawls your entire online existence, from your social media trolling to your tastes in porn, to pick a perfect partner.
Think of it as Tinder Maximus, allowing your subconscious to swipe right for you.
Unfortunately, your subconscious may just be a terrible wingman. Maybe, as the team soon learns, there are good reasons why the crew of Forbidden Planet's starship C-57D warned against unleashing your Id. Within the first five minutes, one of the team is naked, covered in blood, on the floor next to her ex-boyfriend, who she killed in the night. She doesn't remember doing it, but she's oddly OK with it. Maybe all that unleashed Id stuff isn't so great after all.
The script, by first-time director Matthew T. Price and start-up survivor Kelly Morr, is full of knowing and witty contradictions. The team's gender split from the normal dude-bro world of tech is an important subversion that both plays to classic slasher conventions and tips them on their head (so the mandatory shower sequence passes the Bechdel test of female interactions with flying colors). The dialogue is witty, sparky, and brought to best life by Lakis as Devon, the firm's CEO and self-acknowledged second best coder. As the mysterious force unleashed by her software starts to rewrite everyone's firmware, she brings a knowing cadence, cloaking Devon in a purposeful innocence to mask her own steely survival instincts. As low-budget cinema's final girls go, she's a definite cut above the rest.
So what are the haters hating? Because this is a film whose resolution is as much Suspiria as Scooby Doo. It wants to have its cake and eat it when it comes to gender politics in the workplace, (throwing the improbably named and impossibly handsome Carson Nicely into the shirtless mix as the gold-hearted himbo to counterbalance the opening workout montage of Lakis). It crams more tonal shifts in its 87 minutes than than Joseph Khan's equally divisive Detention. At the same time, that's what its fans will love about it.
For me, it was deliciously subversive. Part giallo, part techno-horror, part Cronenberg-style Jekyll and Hyde riff, part acerbic sex comedy, and a wry commentary about the addictive nature of technology, Other Halves' true target is the perils of social media, and how it can say more about ourselves than we may want the world to know.
For more about Other Halves, visit www.otherhalv.es.
For more on Other Worlds Austin, visit www.otherworldsaustin.com.