Zero Contact was directed by Rick Dugdale, written by Cam Cannon (Deadlock, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage), and stars Chris Brochu (Recon, Dawn Patrol), Aleks Paunovic (Cold Pursuit, Puppet Killer), Veronica Ferres (Siberia, Pay the Ghost), TJ Kayama (Yokai King, A Better Place), James C. Burns (Coldwater, Call of Duty: Black Ops), Martin Stenmarck (Lyckoviken, Karlek Deluxe), and Anthony Hopkins (Kidnapping Mr. Heineken, A Bridge Too Far). It’s about a group of people coming together in order to stop a technological advancement that could wipe out life on Earth.
The Plot: Grandiosity and innovation are the main points of Zero Contact’s plot. Scientists, inventors, hackers, billionaires, and everyone perceived as larger-than-life make appearances here to execute a cautionary tale that works in a way that the filmmakers didn’t intend.
“Quantinuum Initiative” is the name of the project that tech mogul Finley Hart (Hopkins) was a part of before he passed away. What that entails is unknown to the public, as newscasters reveal to the audience in a four-minute exposition dump. Real good start. Various people from across the world connected to Hart, like hacker Trevor (Paunovic), attorney Veronica (Ferres), tech expert Riku (Kayama), company executive Hakan (Stenmarck), and Hart’s son Sam (Brochu) receive letters to join a video call, in a rather lo-fi moment.
Instructions among them are unanimous: input their codes to activate the Initiative. The whole point of Zero Contact is less about stopping a machine and more about figuring out why they should do it in the first place. It’s an interesting idea, but clarity is rare, with the visual presentation regarding the Quantinuum Initiative lacking and lines that range from crazy: “It’s fringe science; alien contact, micro-technology” to insane: “the machine runs on dark matter reactor”. Adding to that is the call itself being hosted by someone who’s never identified.
Barring the discussion of what “the machine” that was part of the Initiative was and if it should be (re?)activated, there’s not much plot. Most of the runtime is spent with the characters arguing amongst themselves about whether or not they should enter their codes and some of said characters contacting associates like Doug (Burns) regarding more nebulous things like “the equipment” and so forth.
With things being so ill-defined, one-note, and lacking in attention, the only way that Zero Contact works is by proving that Primer as presented in a Zoom meeting wouldn’t have been good.
The Characters: Exposition dumps introduce everyone to each other, but no further depth is added to smooth out the surface-level writing, and mentions of other characters only make things blurrier.
Sam was never paid any mind by Finley, making him numb to his death when it happened. He doesn’t want to take any longer in the video call than he has to, as he went his own way by creating a family. It’s understandable as to why he’d want to get things over and done with, but he’s overly rude to everyone else and never shows any other trait. One note is the best way to describe him.
Apart from their job titles, which are equally surface level, the other people in the meeting are just competing faces in an interminable discussion. Trevor used to have a hand in Hart’s company but was fired and re-hired by Finley; he’s the only one in Zero Contact with something resembling a personality, as he’s introduced with business deals in progress, a girlfriend who he softly flirts with, and tries to bring levity to the meeting.
The rest can only really be described by their attitudes towards Hart and inputting their codes. Hakan doesn’t much care about what it does and just wants to leave, Veronica blindly supports turning it on, and Riku is more concerned with “the equipment” than the Initiative.
Hart himself is a generic mogul type, musing over what the difference between art and science is, addressing his praises and criticisms from the public, and trying to describe himself as he’s a recluse who doesn’t have much history. It’s not an interesting character, and his appearances are made with arbitrarily inserted interview footage.
All of the above are just quibblers, and Sam has to be exposited to for the entire movie, which doesn’t clarify much and reduces the dialogue further to sacrifice personality.
The Thrills: Dugdale tried his hardest to make something exciting with Zero Contact’s weak script. Efforts to raise the stakes are made through occasional violent encounters and outbursts from the characters, but it’s deathly dull regardless.
Discussions surrounding the ramifications of activating the Quantinuum Initiative don’t exactly raise eyebrows, just confusion. What it can do isn’t known to the characters, but they know it runs via bizarre means and could do just about anything, or nothing at all. Mystery boxes can work as plot points, creating something everyone wants but the possession of said box comes with unwanted risk and attention; however, these kinds of scenarios often are only part of the excitement (Pulp Fiction does this right), and it’s clear that the questions surrounding the initiative are far more interesting in theory, not execution.
Cannon’s script tries to work in some shadowy figures who watch the call and possibly have nefarious purposes. One of the participants in the meeting is killed by an assailant with requisite glitch effects over their face, even though no technology can do that in real-time. Way to be up to date, NFT movie. Possibly being committed by the same people is the theft of the machine, which was only accessible by Doug and Riku, and Sam’s reception of a package with a note that’s mysterious, keeping in line with the theme here.
Another faction is made reference to around the halfway mark. “The Foundation” is a leftover group of old employees of Hart’s company that serve to clean up whatever messes or deals were left in the wake of the owner’s death. Nebulous as usual, the characters propose that the Foundation could find the person who’s hosting/watching the call, but the powers the Foundation holds are unclear.
World-affecting stakes are present, but without a clear idea, or even a hint of what anything or anyone does, Zero Contact has near-zero excitement.
The Technics: Credit must go to everyone involved for making a movie with the assets they had available. Although the question must be asked if they couldn’t have just waited a year and a half (it sounds worse when I point out how long the lockdowns were) to do all of this in person.
Pacing is the biggest offender on the list of Zero Contact’s technical issues. Two sequels are planned for this movie, but this first entry doesn’t have enough story to sustain its runtime, frequently turning to Hopkins’s monologuing (which is only enjoyable thanks to the actor doing it), watching the characters walk around their rooms, look curiously into their webcams, and there’s just dead space for good measure. It feels unending and I fear having to review another installment.
Lighting and depth are actually surprisingly good here, as actors had to set up all of their lights, do their own hair, makeup, and wardrobe; though they had the help of a production designer between takes. Sound and visual qualities are good too, mind-bogglingly so since there are no unintentional screen tears, audio peaks, or exposure issues. If only the narrative could’ve been this polished.
The people behind Zero Contact deserve at least some credit for trying something different, but the result is oblique at best and frustrating at worst and works best as a denial of concept instead of a proof of one.
Lionsgate has released Zero Contact to Digital and VOD platforms. It arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on July 5th. And if you’re looking for something similar, and hopefully better, FilmTagger has a few suggestions.