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This new sci-fi murder mystery makes a hearty attempt to be the next ‘Primer’, but its contrived premise and stilted acting make it one of the most laborious films out there.

Black Hollow Cage is, at its heart, a movie about time travel. It does, in a way, also bring that element of the big screen into real life, because the film feels about ten hours long when watching it. A slow-burning film is only satisfactory when its plot and resolution aren’t utterly contrived, and when its characterisation actually gives the audience a reason to feel tense as the movie continually builds towards its denouement. But Black Hollow Cage does none of these things, and its failure to create a foundation on which a movie can stand on its own ultimately results in its entire structure falling flat, in spite of its breathtaking appearance courtesy of cinematographer Ivan Romero, and brilliant post-production colouring.

The story in Black Hollow Cage is not an easy one to describe. It takes several curious elements – Alice, a girl with a robotic prosthetic arm; her inscrutable father whom she hates; and her ‘mother’, a dog which speaks via a translation device attached to its neck (yes! Just like Doug, from Pixar’s Up!) – and mashes them into a single, contained environment, in the form a stunning modernist house built in the deepest reaches of a Spanish jungle. As with most contained environments, the conflict in the film then predictably comes from outside elements coming in. There are Erica and Paul, two flaxen-haired siblings whose beauty astonishes both Alice and her father when the latter rescues them from near death in the forest beyond. Then, there is a large, time-travelling black cube in the middle of the forest which gives Alice messages from a future version of herself, who seems intent on stopping a terrible tragedy that the siblings’ arrival in the house has ordained.

one often wonders if the film is actually a dictation exercise where actors read lines to five-year-olds

The film does not make itself an easy watch, and at times, certain elements of it almost seem laugh-out-loud hilarious due to their complete mismatch with the film’s aesthetic and atmosphere. Black Hollow Cage also spends too much time on its imagery and symbolism, which proves pointless in the end given that not enough is explained for viewers to make a satisfactory connection between metaphor and representation. It is also, to put it point-blank, an incredibly boring venture. Watching Alice’s robotic fingers repeatedly open and shut around three cylinders as practice using her robotic arm serves no purpose whatsoever – there is no tension built from countless minutes of exposition, nor any reason to sympathise with Alice given that her character only alternates between hysterical screaming and a complete lack of emotion at times where emotion is definitely required to make the movie’s entire premise even plausible. The result is a slew of sluggish scenes that go nowhere at all; made even harder to watch by some of the most wooden acting ever to make the big screen. There are no conversational exchanges in the film; only screaming matches or words delivered so monotonously that one often wonders if the film is actually a dictation exercise where actors read lines to five-year-olds.

And there are the inconsistencies. For someone who proclaims that she hates her father within the first few minutes of the film, Alice is remarkably cool when dealing with him, and is even affectionate with him at certain points for no discernible reason. As much as I hate to be vague due to spoilers, the conflict in the film also revolves around a single act of hers that is wholly incongruous with the way her character is written and set up – she invites Erica and Paul to stay in the house against future-Alice’s wishes, purely because she can see that her father is attracted to Erica, which in turn sets off a chain reaction of violence. Apparently, not even time-travel can reverse this decision – and once again, if there are reasons that can explain away this glaring plot hole, they are never explained at all. This complete inscrutability of the rules that govern writer-director Sadrac Gonzalez-Perillon’s setting and characters is a recurring motif in Black Hollow Cage, one that drains the film of any enjoyment.

It is a difficult watch, and not in a good way.

While the symbolism of the three cylinders in relation to the larger concept behind Black Hollow Cage becomes clear at the end, there is still no satisfaction to be gotten out of it – the backstory that Gonzalez-Perillon builds for his initially intriguing characters is never fully elaborated on. Early on in the film it is established that Alice’s father had killed her biological mother, but the movie doesn’t go much further than simply stating it. Neither is the canine stand-in for Alice’s mother explained, nor her complete and utter belief that the dog is her honest-to-god mother, and the seemingly tender relationship between the two (that is more likely to make the dog a fan favourite, considering Lowena McDowell’s mostly expressionless performance as Alice). As for Erica and Paul, they are revealed to have a connection to a mysterious and dangerous assailant lurking in the woods – but the final reveal of this assailant’s motives still doesn’t solve the problem of why the mysterious siblings are even part of the plan in the first place. This leaves the small victory of the film’s accessible, smart symbolism hanging hopelessly in the air; not enough to save the film from the incoherence of its own plot and the fact that it either didn’t do enough, or did too much but then threw all its own efforts away.

Black Hollow Cage is a movie full of conflicts. It is about a conflict between father and daughter, another conflict between unknowing nemeses, and a conflict that spans time itself. But it is also a film with its own internal conflicts – its badly-developed and inconsistent characters, its forgetfulness of major backstory elements, and its non-resolution of the actual plot (if there is one at all). It is a difficult watch, and not in a good way. If you’re looking for a time-travel movie about cubes, you’d be better off watching Primer.


2/5

‘Black Hollow Cage’ is now playing at the Raindance Film Festival 2017, taking place from 20th September to 1st October. Information and tickets here.

Image: Raindance Film Festival 2017

EJ Oakley

When EJ Oakley isn’t shedding bitter tears over her law degree or loitering near Jeremy Bentham’s mummified corpse, she enjoys immersing herself in music, film and TV, art, and video games. She owns one too many baseball jerseys.

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