Cerebrum, the debut feature from director Arvi and co-writer Gary D. Houk made its premiere April 25th at the Worldfest Film Festival. The tale of experiments with human memory and father-son estrangement attracted a bit of attention ahead of its screening. Does it live up to the hype?
Tom Davis (Christian James, Hell Fest, True to the Game 2) is forced to move back home with his estranged father Kirk (James Russo, The Possession Diaries, Woe). Tim is not happy about this although Chloe (Alexxis Lemire, Truth or Dare, Torn Hearts) is glad to see him back in town.
Kirk is a scientist, a “cowboy Einstein” as his assistant Bhuvanesh (Anirudh Pisharody, Killer Competition) calls him. And he’s offered Tim a nice chunk of money to be the test subject for something he’s working on. A way to digitize and store the contents of your brain, a sort of backup of your personality in case you lose your memory. He just needs to find a way to make it last for more than fifteen minutes.
After a drunken argument with his father, Tom wakes up in the yard with some odd memories. And accused of a crime he has no memory of, his father’s murder.
I think by now everyone knows that meddling with people’s memories does not end well. And this isn’t even being done in a high-tech corporate or university lab. Dr. Davis’s lab is a dirty, cluttered barn in the middle of nowhere Texas. And his equipment is a laptop and a headset hooked up to what looks like the case for a gaming computer. And a bottle of Absolut vodka. This is classic, Al Adamson grade, low budget, mad scientist stuff.
Unfortunately, Cerebrum doesn’t focus on the science, mad or otherwise. Perhaps since Arvi has a BS in Mechanical Engineering and MS in Computer Science he knows how far-fetched it is and doesn’t bother trying to explain it. Or perhaps it’s just there as a hook to hang a domestic drama and a mystery on.
Cerebrum’s domestic drama starts out very heavy-handed, neither father nor son is particularly likable or subtle about making their feelings known. Listening to them argue with clunky dialogue and cliché accusations gets old fast. And in a film like this, that’s not a good thing. After Kirk’s death, Tom begins loading his father’s memories, trying to finish his research. James does a good job of playing the dual role of Tim and Kirk in Tim’s body. The back and forth in the videos they leave for each other works a lot better at exploring their issues and relationship than the arguments.
Unfortunately with no real explanation for how all of this works, there’s a lot of headache-inducing technobabble that gets passed off as explanations. Especially in the last hour as they try to finish the research and figure out how Tim was set up before the side effects of being somebody else takes their toll.
There’s also no mystery as to whether or not Tom is guilty, the film gives it away seconds after the cops show up. And even before the reveal, you can easily guess who set him up. Not that any of this stops him from accessing the lab and using the equipment. The lab isn’t sealed off or put under surveillance. This means there’s little sense of urgency about all of this.
At ninety minutes Cerebrum could have been a diverting piece of pseudoscience fiction. But at two hours it’s overlong and talky. The science fiction is so lacking in science it might as well be magic. And the thriller element is lacking in thrills. The film’s performances and occasional bright spots end up buried in a sea of blandness. BTW, there’s no hidden scene which means there’s no reason to subject yourself to the horrible acoustic country song that plays over the end credits.