Tuesday 5 April 2016

Narcopolis (UK 2015: Dir Justin Trefgarne)

The future is clearly not very bright, and you only need to wear shades to avoid detection in newcomer Justin Trefgarne's murky but not totally unenjoyable sci-fi/time travel thriller.

The director has created a world set largely in 2024 which doesn't look too different from our own, except that all recreational drugs have been legalised, so that large swathes of the city (unnamed, but filmed in Swansea, Wales) population remain either blissed out or criminally desperate for their next fix.The city is policed by 'drecks' - so named because they clear up all the messes others don't want to. Narcopolis focuses its story on one of these cops, Frank Grieves - an embittered ex druggie with a messy family life and the accidental shooting of his boss haunting his past - who we first meet investigating a corpse with half its face missing, whose records don't show up on the police databases.

As the film widens out it takes in time travel elements, corrupt cops, an evil drugs corporation called Ambro (presumably short for Ambrosia) who have cornered the market in drug supply while testing a new strain on unwilling victims, and family drama. It's difficult to explain much more without giving some key parts of the plot away, but it's safe to say that while it doesn't end happily there is at least a drawing together of these strands.

Trefgarne holds off pulling these elements together for most of the film's running time which can make it a bit of a headscratcher (although if you've seen any time travel movies you'll probably guess one of the plot reveals quite early). This is a bold move, but the confusing events are anchored by some good if downplayed acting (Elliot Cowan as Grieves is suitably world weary) and the director's decision to render the world not as a CGI dominated futuropolis but rather a noirish network of alleys and roadways - with empty warehouse locations kept to a minimum - is a sensible one within the limits of budget. However at times, with its I-know-it-didn't-cost-much-but-here's-some-fast-editing-and-extreme-close-ups-to-compensate look, this makes Narcopolis look like a slightly more expensive version of an episode of Spooks.

Dystopian sci fi is not new and technically there isn't anything particularly innovative in Narcopolis. It also has an at times rather shaky script and some of the support acting is a little underdone. But it's good to see a reasonably convincing world of the future produced on a minuscule budget, and let's face it good to see any Brit sci-fi on our screens. Not bad.

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