"Telepathy sci-fi film that has too many noise and statics."
Science runs amok once again in Listening, the debut feature of director-screenwriter Khalil Sullins. With striking visual style and a promising touch, Sullins explores the potential powers and grave ramifications of telepathy.
Best friends David (Thomas Stroppel) and Ryan (Artie Ahr) are hard up graduate students who want to test some of their theories about harnessing the human mind. “Borrowing” scientific equipment from their university and secretly working in a garage, the two invent a method of translating human thoughts into data which can be read and interpreted. Their first few attempts are unsuccessful until Jordan (Amber Marie Bollinger) joins their secret little club. Using human brain itself as the decoder, Jordan solves the glitch, delivering a breakthrough to the duo’s experiment.
However, a secret government agency discovers their project and presents them irresistible offers. Unknown to them, the agency intends to make a widespread application of their invention, enabling them to read the thoughts of everyone, even possibly manipulating their thoughts. While Ryan is persuaded by their sweet talks, David escapes to Cambodia and trains to control his thoughts in order to fight off the mind-reading enemies.
Listening has a promising central premise executed with agility and playfulness. While most films dealing with the human mind are bore-fest, the feature manages to be thought-provoking, fast-paced and engrossing. It is basically plot-driven and it is interesting to know how things unravel. Despite its low budget, Sullins manages to make it appear more pricey. He has impressive visual command, making frames by frames arresting and startling. In particular, he employs a variety of oversaturated color palettes, ranging from blue and yellow in the early scenes to greens in the garage lab moments and to the reds and whites towards the end.
The plot may be fascinating but it has too many illogical sequences, unsurprising twists and conventional characters. It is also confusing what sort of impressions the movie wants to leave. The first act appears to be a character study as we are introduced to the two lead figures and their somewhat volatile relationship. While David is tied to his wife Melanie (Christine Haeberman), Ryan is a lady-killer always on the hunt. Both are financially struggling – David faces imminent eviction while Ryan tends to her sick grandmother. However, too much sweet time has been allocated to such back stories that have no huge bearing on the events after.
As sudden as Ryan’s indecisive action to disclose their creation to key people, the movie unexpectedly shifts dynamics, giving more intensity to suspense and thrill. It is an uncomfortable turn as the local and personal, short-casted first half abruptly becomes an act filled with villainous people whose actions have global repercussions.
Silly scientific tropes like experimental subjects attached with endless wires and analog computers are ever present. Surprisingly, they are convincing. As to the performances of the actors, they do not actually make the film any more engaging.
With Listening, Sullins displays promise as a director capable of creating a visually remarkable and dynamically-paced feature. Now, he needs better screenplay and better actors.
Production: Listen Film
Cast: Thomas Stroppel, Artie Ahr, Amber Marie Bollinger, Christine Haeberman, Steve Hanks, Arn Chorn-Pond
Director/screenwriter: Khalil Sullins
Producers: Pardis Sullins,Travis Nicholson, Jamal Degruy, Khalil Sullins
Director of photography: Blake McClure
Editor: Howard Heard
Production designer: Alec Contestabile
Composer: Edward Patrick White