Black Hollow Cage is a feature-length science fiction movie from writer-director Sadrac González. González takes a well-tread sci-fi staple, the time travel story, and tackles it with arthouse sensibilities. Despite the extraordinary premise, Black Hollow Cage owes more to Primer than it does to Looper and calling its sombre, meditative style an acquired taste may be too generous.
Alice (Lowena McDonell) is a young (12-ish) girl who lives in an isolated wooded area with her father Adam (Julian Nicholson) and their talking dog (which she refers to as mother???). They live in a stylish looking home, all wood, metal, and glass. With its many narrow hallways and glass walls, the house looks shadow box-like as we follow its occupants from room to room. Right from the onset, there is friction between Alice and her dad. Alice is being fitted with a robotic arm and doesn’t want Adam present as she figures out how to use her new limb. Alice is also upset that Adam won’t acknowledge that their dog, who talks through an electronic device, is her mother. The movie never explains why Alice feels this way or how the talking-dog technology works, and things only grow stranger from there.
While out exploring the woods, Alice comes across a giant black cube. As she fiddles about the cube it opens and reveals a note scribbled on a piece of paper which tells her not to trust a couple of strangers. And what do you know, a couple of strangers, Erika (Haydée Lysander) and her younger brother Paul (Marc Puiggener), arrive at their doorstep. It turns out, the black cube is some sort time travel device, and someone is sending notes back in time to Alice, telling her she must alter the future.
The first thing that jumps out about this movie is how slow and contemplative it feels. When everything clicks — the narrow hallways and square rooms, static camera, and gentle pacing — the film feels a touch reminiscent of Yasujiro Ozu’s work. These moments, however, are few and far between. Scenes often feel like they go on forever without any sense of dramatic tension. To put it bluntly: Black Hollow Cage’s pacing is slower than cold molasses.
Black Hollow Cage could use some tighter editing. I can see the effect González is going for, but it doesn’t work. Individual shots, and sometimes entire scenes, reach their natural conclusions and then the camera hangs there a beat (or three) too long. Making matters worse, the actors speak their lines using slow and dry deliveries. Especially irksome are the long pauses between sentences during back-and-forths — they’re flat-out Ben Carson-esque. It doesn’t take long for the glacial pacing to go from tedious to obnoxious. I would never be so disrespectful as to multitask while watching a film I’m reviewing but Black Hollow Cage had me fighting the urge to pick up my phone and scroll through Instagram.
The mystery, the pacing, and the performances all come together to create a surreal and dreamlike vibe. And while that description may sound promising, the movie never cashes in on its potential. David Lynch is a master of surrealism. His movies don’t make literal sense and they still wallop you on a visceral level. There’s a feeling that anything can happen in Lynch’s dreamlike stories and there is often a sense of something gnawing at you; an ominous threat in the pit of your stomach. Here, things feel dreamlike for the sake of being confusing. And even though events escalate into sickening acts of violence, they feel so clinical and detached that these moments lack shock value. They’re like someone smacking you in the face with a pillowcase filled with cotton balls.
An entertaining film connects with viewers through strong characters, a compelling plot, and engaging themes. Black Hollow Cage features shallow characters and an intentionally vague story. It’s the third category, theme, where this film has any hope of connecting with an audience. González shows an interest in exploring rather angsty material – regret, denial, and healing – through a time travel lens. Even as the story fails to make sense there’s a layer of subtext waiting to be deconstructed. Genre fans and philosophy majors may enjoy González’ sci-fi/visual poetry mashup.
We’ve all been enjoying a film and realized that we didn’t want it to end. Black Hollow Cage left me with the opposite feeling. Here is a feature length movie that would be better served distilled into a 15-minute short. The inert pacing and sterile dialogue kill this story right out the gate. If you want to watch a heady time travel film done right, see Nacho Vigalondo’s 2007 masterclass in genre storytelling, Timecrimes.
- Release Date: 2/16/2018