Review: Empathy, Inc.

Virtual Reality has gone through many iterations, from clunky goggles to full body suits in order to experience another world without leaving your home.  In Empathy, Inc., we find out just how far one man will go to make a fast buck in this brave new world of technology.

When his tech company tanks due to false claims and mismanaged money, Joel (Zack Robidas) must move in with his in-laws. His wife Jessica (Kathy Searle), thinks it will be good for them to get away from the scandal, and his father-in-law thinks his daughter will finally do what he wants: settle down across the street and have a family.  Joel, determined to make his money back, decides to take up an old school friend Nicolaus (Eric Berryman) on his offer to invest in an extreme virtual reality,”XVR”, experience start-up, bound to make loads of cash.  Armed with his eager father-in-law’s sizable retirement nest egg, Joel funds the research after he tries out the mind-blowing experience first hand. Only problem is the experience, which lets you live in someone else’s body, isn’t just a fantasy, and real-life crime and drama comes faster than Joel could have ever imagined. With his reputation, money and life on the line, he must try to save his name and his family from the shady side of the tech industry.

Empathy, Inc. is a bleak sci-fi film noir that brings dangerous technology closer to our current time, and with all the innovation swirling around us, it’s not hard to see how it can go bad at the drop of a hat.  The film is shot in black and white lending to an arthouse feel, especially with the effective use of unusual and harsh angles by cinematographer Darin Quan. It actually reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s earlier film, Following which had the same tense and bare-bones feel. The performances were slightly uneven, but the core cast of Robidas, Searle, Klaitz as the sleazy tech genius Lester and Berryman as the sketchy Nicolaus were definite standouts. They all brought the story of greed and regret to life, and the clever script written by the film’s director Yedidya Gorsetman and Mark Leidner shows their talent for storytelling.

Empathy, Inc. builds a gradual wave of twists that will keep you riveted to the story, so it’s worth hanging in with this visually stark journey to get to the bittersweet end.

Empathy Inc. will be released in select theatres September 13 and VOD September 24.