Expired (2022) Review
Expired was directed and written by Ivan Sen (Goldstone, Mystery Road) and stars Ryan Kwanten (Glorious, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken), Jillian Nguyen (Tam, Millie Lies Low), and Hugo Weaving (Strangerland, Patrick Melrose). It’s about a tired hitman who finds love in a futuristic society and who is forced to consider his decisions while his body slowly decays.
The Plot: Oblique plots can be a major reason for a film’s rewatchability factor when properly divulging details across the runtime. It’s a delicate balance – one that Expired doesn’t have as it speeds past important information while spouting more and more until it becomes virtually unreadable.
Urban lives are rarely happy ones, and contract killer Jack’s (Kwanten) is no different. Amidst the streets of (future?) Hong Kong, he’s called on to eliminate cyber-somethings – whether these beings are androids, cyborgs, or robots is never clarified for a permanently unnamed someone and there seems to be no reprieve in sight. After ten minutes of almost literally nothing, Jack meets April (Nguyen), a karaoke singing prostitute, and finds something to latch onto in her. While he may find something to propel him, the audience won’t, since there’s little story to speak of before (or after) this point in Expired.
Once the two begin to flourish as a couple, Jack starts to physically deteriorate for seemingly no reason, which requires him to seek out Dr. Bergman (Weaving), a Masuka Corporation (whatever that is) scientist who may be able to stop whatever this process is. Expired is thin at its core but throws so many odd insinuations and previously unestablished tidbits at the watcher that it somehow doesn’t make sense by its own end.
Footage of riots is featured at random moments, it’s generally hinted that pharmaceutical corporations are behind the troubled times and could be aided by the shadowy Masuka Corporation, though to what end is unknown, apparently a technology allows people to literally sell their souls, and people begin to follow Jack with ominous intent.
There could’ve been a supremely interesting plot to unfurl but Expired assumes you already know everything about it. You don’t, and to be frank, I’m in the same boat. Though I’m not sure Sen fared any different with such density.
The Characters: Part of what Sen wants to achieve with this movie is an unmistakable atmosphere of diluted emotions. To his credit, he reaches his goal, even surpassing it with such ease that the characters lose all the personality they could’ve had.
Jack shares most of his traits with other cinematic hitmen; self-hatred, fatigue, a yearning for love, and a growing consciousness are all front and center of his personality. There’s nothing different about the way he acts or feels, but there is some interesting backstory. Apparently, souls aren’t the only thing that can be sold in this world, as Jack’s mother sold him off to a(nother) unnamed person before he was born, and his father is completely absent. Again, there’s something on the tip of Expired’s finger in the search for his family, which it alludes to but never follows through on, leaving Jack as an invariably melancholy man.
April gets all of her development out of the way in her first scene of the film. When Jack first meets her, she’s working at a sort of karaoke/strip club/bar and gets selected to put on a show. After the first mundane question (“what’s your name?”) she pours out her life story unprompted; she’s from Vietnam – where the moon can be seen, she didn’t have much money, she likes singing, ice skating, and doesn’t have a boyfriend. Compounding the confusion is the fact that she doesn’t even know what Jack looks like while telling him this. With that out of the way, she rambles in monotone about nothing, the same way Jack does.
Calling these walking monologues “characters” is a bit of a stretch; while there’s some interesting backstory and potential intrigue, neither lead does anything besides stare blankly and share non-sequitur tidbits.
The Romance: Since there’s a sci-fi aspect to the movie, the romance receives a slight boost in effectiveness when said element is intertwined. Sen doesn’t initiate or evolve the connection differently than most, but there’s more merit to his ideas than his characters that perform them.
Coupling the two characters is a clunky process for Expired in the same way that most other things are. It’s an almost in media res introduction with Jack being suggested to frequent April’s place of work since he knows her calling card but appears like he’s never seen her before when she presents for him. Maybe the mere thought of an intimate connection beyond the sexual facet is something she wants as desperately as he does. Maybe it’s the fact that this society doesn’t have room for the love that makes both of them want to fight it. It’s hard to deduce through the lack of setup or transparency.
What the movie has to benefit it is the world it describes. While its bumbling first connection doesn’t bode well, the continuous meetings between Jack and April are given more importance as the world around them shares only apathy from humans and… whatever the other beings are. Sen isn’t out to provide answers, and this is a detriment to most parts of Expired, but watching the two characters eventually lay in bed together without doing anything else shows that the romance grows on the idea of finding comfort, if not love in its initial stages.
Adding the decay of Jack into the mix doesn’t mean much beyond the metaphorical as the script doesn’t contribute any further to anything aside from the broad idea of loving someone even when it hurts, but that addition provides something to think about. Something to watch would be preferable considering this is a film, but the meat of the romance is conveyed well for most of the runtime.
The Technics: For a multi-hyphenate production helmed by Sen, there’s a lot of strain to put forth a competent final product, which makes the raw successes more endearing and the flaws more disappointing in that they seemingly didn’t have to happen.
Style is something Expired has plenty of. Though obviously derivative of the Blade Runner films in terms of lighting and atmosphere, the way these things are presented makes them tolerable in a largely lethargic movie. The cinematography (also Sen’s doing) relies on lots of transitions to and from hand-held and perfect stillness and spinning camerawork. Both are satisfying in select scenes, but the dialogue-heavy ones suffer from constant shot-reverse-shot angles that dull the senses along with the sparse music (by Sen, yet again) and breathy performances. He does undeniably nail the semi-cyberpunk dystopia setting, but Expired was shot in China so I suppose that was a gimme.
Pacing and repetition are what kills the film. No doubts will crop up about the writer/director’s desire to make viewers think about the ideas he’s presenting, as he opts to slow every single scene to a crawl. The problem really lies in the fact that others have presented them in far better ways with more budgetary support and narrative intrigue.
Some decent romantic and narrative developments keep Expired afloat, as do the stark visuals, but it seems the helmer stretched himself too thin as every positive of the movie comes with an asterisk. Add in some overfamiliar beats and Expired is nothing short of stale.