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Blank (2022) Review

Combining two popular themes, an author struggling with writer’s block and AI run amuck, Blank is the story of Claire Rivers (Rachel Shelley, Deep State, Lighthouse) who can’t seem to put words on paper even as the bills pile up and the calls from her agent become more frantic. Finally, facing a one-month deadline to either produce a book or lose her publishing deal she decides to spend that time at The Retreat, a high-tech facility for the creatively blocked.

Her room comes complete with a holographic concierge named Henry (Wayne Brady, Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild, WRZ: White Racist Zombies) and Rita (Heida Reed, FBI: International, True Bloodthirst) an android assistant. There’s also a weird little device for Claire to attach to her head in order to stimulate her creativity. It doesn’t seem to help though as we mostly see her drinking wine and falling asleep in front of the TV.

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But things are about to get a lot worse. Someone has infected the retreat’s system with malware which spreads from the computers to Henry and Rita. Now taking her programming a bit too seriously, Rita refuses to unlock the doors and won’t let Claire leave until she finishes her novel.

Screenwriter Stephen Herman (Black Box, The Promotion) and director Natalie Kennedy (Cinderella Nights, Council Culture) seem to be channelling Stephen King to a certain degree. Blank has elements of both Misery, a writer forced under threat to write their next book, and The Shining, a writer in a luxurious setting with the ghosts in this case being computer created.

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It’s an interesting concept, but the execution has a few glitches of its own. I can fully accept The Retreat’s system being compromised, security breaches of banks, credit agencies and government agencies that should have top level security are almost a daily event. But what I can’t buy is that they could erase guest’s records and nobody would notice. Or that they wouldn’t notice all communication to and from the site were being blocked.

Similarly, Blank fails to explain the lack of human staff. There should be some functions AI can’t replace if only for insurance reasons, security personnel, medical staff, maintenance people, etc. But we’re told the system is fully automated, there’s nobody there to notice what is going on. Even the similar Dark Cloud provided some explanation for the lack of help its heroine received.

However, if you can get past that gaping plot hole, Blank is a fairly decent thriller with an increasingly desperate Claire pitted against Rita who is not only becoming less stable, but more insistent that she finish her book. Even worse the supply of food is running out, and since nobody knows she’s there starvation is a real possibility.

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One problem with any film about a writer is that watching someone write is boring, and Blank is no exception. Watching Claire’s ashtray fill up while she types is far from compelling. Kennedy and Herman work around this by showing what she’s writing, an autobiographical piece that seems to revolve around her younger self (Annie Cusselle, The Silent Child) stealing cigarettes from her psychotic mother (Rebecca-Clare Evans, The Zombie King, How To Kill Monsters). While it doesn’t seem all that interesting either, there is a point to it which I won’t spoil.

Rachel Shelley gives a great performance as Claire, and Reed does well with a difficult role that requires her to act like a soulless android even when she’s mimicking human emotions. Brady has a similar task but in a much smaller role.

Blank ends up being a film with some good moments and interesting plot developments that ends up being held back by some equally poorly thought out elements. It’s watchable, but that’s about it unless you’re really good at suspending disbelief.

Sparky Pictures will release Blank to Digital Platforms in the UK on January 8th. It’s already available in the North America, including Tubi in the US.

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