The Stratum (2022) Review

Set in 2054 The Stratum offers yet another vision of a world in the grip of a lethal pandemic. Some things haven’t changed though, the first thing we see is Edgar Bane (Jonathan Medina, Offseason, Avengers Grimm), leader of The People’s Army, and a few of his “soldiers” torturing information out of an employee of Wright Corporation before killing him. Elsewhere, cities still look like cities and elite hacker James Walsh (Crash Buist, Hellblazers, The Thing Before the Thing) can still listen to sports news while riding in a taxi. But the radio is full of talk about people becoming infected, having to isolate themselves from those who aren’t, etc. It’s like COVID, only worse.

Bane has hired Walsh to hack into Wright Corp’s systems and get him any useful information he can find. It takes him about ten minutes to make a major discovery, CEO William Wright (Ramin Karimloo, The Phantom of the Opera, Tomorrow Morning) has a daughter named Ayla (Lauren Senechal) who lives on the space station that serves as his headquarters and whose existence he’s kept hidden.

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Buist, who apart from starring in The Stratum also directed and co-wrote it with Senechal seems to think that mankind is going to make a massive technological leap in the next thirty years. One that will enable Wright to have a private space station. Not a cramped, utilitarian construction like the ISS, but a huge, luxurious city in space. You’ll forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical of that happening anytime this century.

We look at social inequality, domestic terrorism, and corporate overreach, all while exploring the nature of love, honesty, and personal responsibility in an ever-changing and complicated world. Wrap all that up in a story with a healthy dose of sci-fi action and sentient vending machines, and you get The Stratum.

Crash Buist

On the other hand, the fact that Wright, who comes off like a cross between Richard Branson and Elon Musk, would have the money and power to do it seems entirely too real. As does the fact he’s pitching a scheme to get the world to sell itself into slavery, Indentured Endeavor. Apparently, in thirty years, people will have forgotten the term “indentured servitude” and the history of company towns. Sadly, that wouldn’t surprise me, either.

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In terms of plot, The Stratum develops along familiar lines just with a virtual reality twist as Walsh decides to exploit this discovery and injects himself, or rather an avatar of himself, into the AI world she lives in since a rare allergy means she can’t be exposed to other people. Or so her father tells her. He begins to develop feelings for her and discovers Edgar isn’t who he thought he was, and he may be getting played. Similarly, Ayla begins to question what her father has been telling her. And the duo finds themselves caught between both sides.

The Stratum does suffer from the obvious problems that come from attempting this kind of science fiction on a low budget. What we see of Earth doesn’t look like it has changed much. There are some neat holographic gadgets and an unstable AI named Black Buddha which operates the local black market, but everything looks very similar to today. The space station is supposed to look futuristic but while some sets do, others have a Roger Cormanesque moulded plastic look to them.

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The Stratum’s attempts at socially relevant sub-plotting suffer from some very on the nose dialogue, the phrase wealth disparity is mentioned within the first few minutes for example. While the best science fiction does deal with real world issues, Buist and Senechal would have been better off being a bit more subtle about things to avoid the feeling of lecturing the viewer.

Apart from that, The Stratum is a diverting thriller with some interesting ideas mixed in among more familiar tropes. The Stratum will be available on VOD and DVD on March 7th via Vision Films. And if you’re not done looking into the future, FilmTagger can suggest a few similar films.

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