Infinity Chamber, a low-budget indie science-fiction picture that was written and directed by former Minnesotan Travis Milloy, is currently available on VOD after completing a short theatrical run. The film revolves around prisoner Frank Lerner (Christopher Soren Kelly) and his attempt to understand and escape from the strange holding cell in which he awakes, accompanied by his Life Support Operator, HOWARD (Jesse D. Arrow), a computer whose sole purpose is to keep Frank alive in the cell. Frank soon deduces that HOWARD is also exploring his neuro system to find evidence of espionage of which Frank claims to be innocent. As the film unspools, the prisoner becomes focused on outwitting HOWARD both in his inner mind and within the confines of the cell itself, along the way developing a Stockholm Syndrome sort of friendship.
Infinity Chamber presents as a well-designed, well-produced film; the cinematography by Jason Nolte is above most of the films in this class and holds up well next to much higher-budgeted productions. Just as important, the film feels completely intentional, and both Nolte and Milloy have thought well about where they are going to place the camera for any given moment. Sound design and production are solid, and there isn’t any muddiness in the dialogue or sound from start to finish. If any complaint can be made about the sound at all, it is that it is a little too clean and produced—not a bad problem to have in the low-budget realm. Physical props and practical effects are nothing to complain about either, and the cold dome that is HOWARD manages to suggest both HAL and a Dalek at the same time. Happily, the film stays far away from any noticeable CGI visual effects. Milloy and company have learned the lesson that the last decade of SyFy has worked so hard to teach us all.
This film is, as a friend of mine noted, a bottle movie. A “bottle” is usually an episode or film that takes place in a single location and is mostly dialogue driven, best represented by the Breaking Bad episode “The Fly.” Generally this happens for budget reasons or if it is an adaptation from a theater play. The first hour or so of Infinity Chamber unfortunately falls prey to much of what is to be avoided in bottle projects: the dialogue is generally predictable, and there isn’t much that actually happens in the room. Even the “trips” that Frank takes into his mental past feel confined and advance the story very slowly. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have made it past the first hour if I hadn’t felt a obligation to give the film its due. I need my films to be less stagey and move more quickly, even the “smart” ones.
However, things start to move a little faster after this point. Frank gets closer to finding a way out, and the closer he gets, the shakier his reality gets. At this point the film heads hard and fast into territory defined by Groundhog Day, The Matrix, Inception, and any number of Philip K. Dick projects. Viewers who enjoy mind-bending cinema will likely find their patience rewarded as the film rolls on to a conclusion that may prove to be as enigmatic or frustrating as viewers find these kinds of films. Unfortunately, the script isn’t as tight as it really needs to be, so there is some question how intentional the ambiguity of the ending was.
The performances are solid and above the usual for this niche. It is clear from the outset that Kelly has real cinema experience and isn’t a stage actor shoehorned into a film role, and Arrow’s vocal performance as HOWARD is a real standout. He brings the the AI to the screen with a consistent personality and adds much-needed inflection to the world of robot and computer voices. Plus, there’s some nice comedy timing on display here too—not bad for a “security camera in space” role. Unfortunately, all the roles are limited by the script as well. There is a lot of dialogue that would have been pruned had it made it through more hands and red pens. Several film-school sins, such as “on-the-nose” dialogue, also happen to a frustrating degree. Given how long the first hour feels, a merciless set of eyes would have really helped get this film and script to the next level. Films like Ex Machina have machine-tight screenplays, and unfortunately this one didn’t.
So, if cinematic mind-benders are your niche and you want to support an indie with local roots, then Infinity Chamber is good bet. Just be advised you need to settle in for the long haul and give the film time to find itself. You can even discuss how this is a meta reference to Frank’s inner state after the film is done. You don’t have to, of course. My suggestion would be to pour yourself another drink, revel in your wobbly-wobbly world, and then try to make sense of Cloud Atlas one more time.