When I watched Splice a couple of years ago, I was intrigued by the plot and the look of the film. The storyline is easily recognizable as a Dr. Frankenstein parable, but it is told in this slanted and perverted way that I found odd. The creature also seemed to be something that the great science fiction director, Guillermo del Toro, would have come up with, but with the edge of a Cronenberg monster from the eighties. Needless to say the film felt very familiar to me, but it was slanted in a way that still sticks in my mind today. I was hooked on to Mr. Natali’s work and wanted to see more. Well with Cypher, I now have.
Cypher deals with a world in the near future where major companies use humans to spy on their rivals. But it is not like our protagonist, Morgan Sullivan, thinks its going to be. In fact it is rather boring. He lies to his wife, pretends he is someone else, and travels across the country to convention after convention. All he has to do is push a pen and record very long speeches on the modern problems facing the manufacturers of processed cheese. What he doesn’t know is that he is just a pawn in the major company’s game. He is really being drugged and made to think that he is who he is pretending to be. This is all to get the rival company’s secrets without them knowing. But Morgan Sullivan has a guardian angel. Her name is Rita Foster and she wakes him up to what is really going on behind the scenes. Except can Morgan Sullivan really trust her? Who is she working for anyway?
The look and the feel of this movie universe is this film’s biggest strengths. At the beginning of the film, this universe feels washed out. There are only shades of beige lining the walls and the suits of the men. Morgan Sullivan’s home is very condo like in its milk toast presentation. Every image just seems to sigh with boredom. Even Morgan’s face is nothing to look at (for such an attractive man, Jeremy Northam can have a very bland face if lit just right) and nothing to care for. But as the film goes on and Morgan finds out what is really going on, the whole look of the film changes into a brighter and livelier film. It is really subtle, but it is there.
This film does not do a whole lot to break out of its science fiction thriller conventions, but instead embraces them with gusto. I think that this is actually a justified move for Mr. Natali to make. You can’t always be breaking out of conventions, because then there would be nothing to be broken out of. Instead a good genre film can live and relish in its conventions and still produce a good watch. This is exactly what Cypher is and I applaud the filmmaker for it.