A typical day in the life of a top-grade physics student: you wake up in a bath full of ice, having no memory of what happened, and find your boyfriend dead in the next room. As you are trying to figure out what is happening, you start experiencing strange time-shifts and eventually realise you are being moved about in time as a result of a mysterious anomaly. That is, in a nutshell, the story of Cassandra (Courtney Hope) in the upcoming indie sci-fi movie, Displacement (written and directed by Kenneth Mader).
Displacement is… a thriller? Drama? Something in between, I would say. It has all the components of a sci-fi thriller classic: death, kidnapping, shady organisations performing secret research. The premise, however, has a lot to do with Cassandra’s relationship with her boyfriend, with her recently deceased mother, her estrangement from her father… and the list doesn’t even end there.
I cannot tell much about the plot without giving away spoilers. The reason for this is that the plot isn’t even known to us (aside from the initial setup), it unfolds as we progress. We are in the same boat with Cassandra throughout the whole movie: she is desperately trying to figure out what is happening and where she is in it, and so are we.
That said, Displacement does not suffer from the classic problem of time-travel films that require deep scientific explanations inaccessible to general public, or that need you to keep track all the time of which timeline you are in. True, Displacement features a couple of scenes where the scientific background of the problem is explained, but if you aren’t up to it, you can just run with the idea that “ok, this time-travel somehow works” and ignore the details. Besides, it’s explained so quickly that you would have to pause the movie to process it if you aren’t already familiar with the concept. And if you are familiar with it, it makes your watching much smoother as the film doesn’t need to waste time explaining things you already know.
Likewise, the causal relationship between various events in different scenes is important, but if you don’t want to strain your brain, you can just follow the (mostly) linear story as Cassandra experiences it and not worry about whether you are currently today, tomorrow or yesterday. You can instead focus on physical details of the scene, such as how did this or that familiar-looking object get in its place, and whether you haven’t seen it just a while ago in a different timeline. The movie is full of those small “a-ha!” moments, as the pieces put themselves together. For the big picture, however, you have to wait for a really long time.
Displacement has some really good acting, from Courtney Hope in the main role (you might know her from the series Quantum Break or if you are like me, you may have heard her as the voice of Vaylin in Star Wars: The Old Republic) as well as Sarah Douglas as the mysterious Dr. Miles or Bruce Davison as Cassie’s mentor, professor Deckard. At times, you might find yourself thinking their performance is so good that the writing didn’t really fill up their whole potential. The film could have easily given more depth to its characters or explored their motivation further and I am sure the actors would have been up to it.
I also have to mention this: I liked that even though basically all the characters in the film are “science nerds”, they don’t come across as caricatures, as is often the case in similarly themed movies. The protagonist is actually shown as a “normal girl”, perhaps too normal, given that she is supposed to be a genius. The reconciliation of her “normal” and “scientific” side works the best during the scenes where she records her progress on her videoblog (in my opinion, possibly the best idea in the whole movie, which made it – and Cassandra – feel realistic to me). Speaking of science nerds, however, I feel that Michael Zhang’s performance in the minor role of a schoolboy deserves a special mention. If anyone was believable as a “live” physics student, it was him.
If time-travel films are your passion, then you can’t leave Displacement out of your list. Its release date is 28th April for USA, and you can look up everything else about it also on its official website.