Last night I settled in and watched Heretic Film’s newly released DVD of Michael Ferris Gibson’s Numb, a film that originally hit theatres, albeit in a limited fashion, four years ago in 2003. Such a broad span of time between a film’s theatrical release and its subsequent emergence on DVD is unusual, until you become aware of the fact that the story of Numb is one that spans the length of a decade.
Principal photography began, you see, in 1996 on the main portion of the film, which was the black and white footage, with the super-saturated color footage being filmed nearly seven years later. Adding to the surrealism of the film’s finally being released on DVD for audiences to enjoy, of course, is the fact that the film’s leads have retired from their acting careers during the passing years, despite their more-than-capable efforts in the film.
Having researched all of this before even unwrapping the DVD, it certainly made me wonder whether the film I was about to watch should have been something that Heretic Films even bothered to bring again to the light of day. Everything else seemed to indicate that the film was simply fated to fading away, so maybe that’s what it should have been gracefully allowed to do. Right?
From the first few fragmented moments of film and imagery to caress my eyes and my television screen, all the way through the starkness of the film’s content and visual style, Numb had me rooted to my chair. What’s strange, though, was that it achieved this effect by unexpected means.
It wasn’t because I was so drawn into the story that I simply couldn’t leave. No, that would have been something that I could easily have dealt with. Instead, the story drove on into dark and damned confusing corridors and forced me to follow it until it reached the end, else I fear that I’d have always been trapped in its dark labyrinth of a story.
In the future, you see, the world is in the grip of an unnamed disease that has driven humanity to the brink of desperation. Clair (Jennifer West Savitch) is a woman driven to find her scientist father who abandoned her and her brother several years earlier, who is also the man who developed a serum called “the Drip” that keeps the disease at bay for those who use it constantly.
Of course, there is a drawback, in that the serum literally leaves them “numb” to life, and ultimately useless. Because of this side effect, six humans, known as Security Agents, were genetically altered to be immune to the numbing effect of the Drip in order to maintain control and organize the dosing process, with most of the surviving humans having been herded into the quickly collapsing confines of Yerba City. The Agents, though, eventually succumb to the disease, and Claire finds herself asking the last of them, Miles (Dominik Overstreet), to help her find her father.
Luckily, despite my never having heard from them before, as well as the fact that everything I just wrote doesn’t really become clear until you’ve watched the film a couple of times, the story was propelled along by some superb acting. Savitch and Overstreet, in particular, help to make a confusing and sprawling story watchable. Of course, this all makes it a shame that they’ve both hung up their acting coats in the years since this movie was filmed.
While I’m definitely saying that this movie was compelling, interesting, well acted and well-written, I’m going to just come right out and say that it is also maddeningly frustrating. For instance, the first fifteen minutes of film are used in a very trippy collage of flashback and present day experiences, all in order to set a mood instead of laying down the groundwork of the story itself. At the end of those fifteen minutes, really, all you know is that something happened and that someone is subsequently searching for something.
Granted, that is the entire gist of the movie, but I’d have liked a bit more clarification in the beginning of a film, instead of being smothered in the emotional context. Another thing that I found odd upon first watching the film, was the director's choice to use super-saturated and grainy color footage for all of Claire’s flashbacks, when the rest of the film is in beautifully shot black and white.
Since then, I suppose, I’m thinking that all of our memories are really nothing more than super-saturated 8mm home movies that play on imperfect projectors in our mind, so maybe it wasn’t such an odd choice. It still made for a confusing first trip through the film, though. In a film where the past and Claire’s memories are so important, having them filmed in such a fashion just threw me for a loop.
So. Here we are at the end of everything, and I’m sitting here after having watched the film a few times, and I’m supposed to tell you whether or not this is a movie that you will enjoy watching. Right. Well, my answer is that I don’t know.
Numb is one hell of a trippy movie that uses acting and the very way it was filmed to portray a vision of the future, as well as the vision of one woman desperately in search of something missing from her past. On many levels, it succeeds brilliantly in those goals, but the haphazard and confusing way that major plot elements and story are thrown about the film, instead of being clearly explained from the get-go, might be more than some people are willing to invest in a movie.
For those of you looking for fast and easy entertainment with a science-fiction feel, Numb might not exactly have you rushing out into the streets and singing its praise. However, for those of you that are willing to take on a challenge and have a movie irritate the hell out of you until you’re left sitting in the dark and discovering that you’ve enjoyed it immensely, then I think Numb might just be the thing for you.