A film review by Craig J. Koban October 24, 2020

2067 jj

2020, Unrated,  114 mins.

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Ethan Whyte  /  Ryan Kwanten as Jude Mathers  /  Leeanna Walsman as Selene Whyte  /  Deborah Mailman as Regina Jackson

Directed by Seth Larney  /  Written by Larney and Dave Paterson

The new sci-fi thriller 2067 (yes, a creatively lazy title) has a truly compelling time travel premise and some thoughtful insights into topical themes of climate change/ecological disasters, but it never manages to fully commit to these ideas, nor does it handsomely pay them off in any meaningful and satisfying manner.  The central ideas surrounding this Seth Laney helmed film are enthralling enough in the way he chronicles an Earth of the future that has lost all plant vegetation and, in turn, oxygen, which requires the few that are left alive to subside on artificial air provided by greedy corporations.  This is an ingenious setup for a dystopian genre piece, but 2067 simply can't commit to it in the manner that it wants to, leaving a resulting film that feels like a hodgepodge of other work (like SILENT RUNNING, STARGATE, and THE TIME MACHINE) without carving out its own unique identity. 

The future of our planet in this film is indeed nightmarishly bleak, and one that is clearly dealing with all of the past sins of inaction when it comes to tackling the ongoing calamity of climate change.  Via a fairly nifty and economical prologue that shows a time lapsed view of Earth from space, we learn that our world has been ravaged by decades of fires, floods, and all other kinds of hellish atmospheric change.  Eventually, all plant life became extinguished, leaving normal oxygen supplies severely dwindling by the day.  As the film opens in its titular year, we see a future world filled with desperate citizens sporting masks (chillingly on point) to survive venturing outside, whereas indoors they subside off of synthetic air that's made and sold by Chronicorp, which preaches a noble minded advertising message to the masses, but deep down is just looking to make a buck off of the suffering of citizens.  And their air is not as easily affordable and available to all, especially the poor and downtrodden.  In an early and unnerving scene, one street protestor screams out "Oxygen is not a privilege!" before he sets himself on fire as a frightening message to onlookers. 

The main protagonist of this tale is Ethan Whyte (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who works for the aforementioned corporation with his brother Jude (Ryan Kwanten), and both spend many agonizing hours in the dirty bowels of the city to keep all power sources up and running.  Ethan works a punishing number of hours to ensure his financial survival (an ability to afford air), not to mention to provide a home and safe haven from the rigors of the outside world for his chronically sick wife, Xanthe (Sana'a Shaik), whose condition is deteriorating rapidly.  Fate steps in when the higher ups at work invite him in for a special time sensitive meeting, during which time they reveal to him a remarkable time tunnel machine called "Chronicle," which was worked on by Ethan's long estranged and presumed dead father, Richard (Aaron Glenane).  And the machine apparently works, and someone or something managed to send a message from 400 years in the future back to the present with a few cryptic words: Send Ethan Whyte.   



Now, this poses all sorts of tantalizing questions: Who sent this message back?  Are people alive and thriving in the future?  And how does Ethan fit into all of this?  Does it have anything to do with his dead dad's work, or the fact that he placed a permanent electronic bracelet drilled into his son's wrist as a child?  Ethan is driven, of course, by insatiable curiosity and a greater sense of purpose, mostly because he appears to be a hand picked figure that's the key to saving the planet, but only if he goes on a potential suicide mission by allowing himself to be placed into Chronicle and thrust into the future without a guaranteed chance of making a return voyage.  Ethan quickly weighs the pros and cons, but ultimately decides to take the journey, and Chronicle does manage to shoot him four centuries in the future.  When Ethan arrives he's greeted to a mostly barren (of humans) landscape, but one that's covered by massive amounts of lush vegetation.  As his mission progresses he comes across a vast and abandoned scientific bunker, but one that has a human skeleton laying outside of its entrance that sports a damning reveal that potentially could not only affect the completion of Ethan's work, but his very sanity and understanding of the deadly complexities and paradoxes of time travel itself. 

Again, the opening sections of 2067 are unquestionably its best in showing an environmentally ravaged and ruined planet that's facing the extinction of the human race because of mistakes made in the past.  Great attention has been paid to the production design of this picture and its overall ominous atmosphere of unending dread, with Laney spending every nickel of his bargain bin budget to make his film look as visually arresting as possible.  The forebodingly cold cityscapes and the decrepit bowels of this plant-less metropolis that harbors workers risking there collective lives to keep it all afloat looks pretty sensational, even when the frequently spotty CGI betrays the level of immersion.  The vibrant greenish hues of the flora, plants, and trees of the future makes for a nice counterpoint for the film's early imagery, which helps lead viewers into solving the inherent story mysteries that are quickly unfolding before Ethan's increasingly anxious eyes.  2067 is never a tedious affair to sit through, and it becomes genuinely intoxicating to see where Laney is taking this narrative after he sends Ethan through time and towards what will become his destiny.   

Most of what's here in the script is hardly anything fresh, though.  2067 is not dull, as just outlined, but it's nevertheless lacking in originality.  We've all seen countless downbeat sci-fi futuristic thrillers featuring chosen one young heroes plucked from obscurity that must fight against corrupt and powerful systems to save humanity (sorry....been there, done that), not to mention that the basic time travel conceits and plots twists here can be seen well ahead with reasonable predictability (there are moments in the story when Ethan is finally piecing together clues to formalize answers to the thornier aspects of his brain-busting temporal journey well after the audience has already done the mental gymnastics and reached their own accurate conclusions).  Plus, one of the bigger issues that plagues 2067 is the main hero himself and the casting.  The 24-year-old Australian Smit-McPhee has been remarkable in many past films (especially as a child actor) like THE ROAD and LET ME IN, but here he's six ways from Sunday wrong for his part as a savoir hero, mostly because he just doesn't have enough intensely raw charisma that the part requires.  He's just not a credible presence here, and his performance ranges from deeply wooden to authentically soulful, but oftentimes leaning towards the former (Laney's frequently stilted and clichéd riddled dialogue also does his actors no favors).  2067 might have been served better with his co-star in Ryan Kwanten quarterbacking the whole affair as the traumatized, but resolute lead.  He brings an unpredictable, lose cannoned edge to the film that Smit-McPhee simply can't register with any lingering staying power. 

By the time 2067 culminates towards a conclusion that involves verbal standoffs, foot chases, guns, fisticuffs, and more time loopy revelations it became apparent that Laney just didn't really know what to do with the grander ambitions of his core concepts.  This is a strong poster child for what I like to call a "PWP" film, or one containing a premise without payoff.  There's much to take in and admire here in 2067, but its writer/director clearly bites off more than he can chew.  The whole affair unavoidably crashes and burns under the weight of being just another underwhelming and disposable low budget doomsday sci-fi parable that required a few more rewrites and resources to effectively pull off.  2067 is the kind of high concept genre piece that desperately needed a Christopher Nolan and a vaster budget to see it through to final compelling fruition.  But Laney, to his credit, has flair as a cinematic visualist, so here's hoping that he's given more opportunities to mature and evolve as a filmmaker beyond this. 

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