By JERRY JENAE SAMPSON
Starring James Russo, Alexxis Lemire, and Christian James
Directed by Arvi Ragu
Written by Arvi Ragu & Gary D. Houk
There is little more devastating than watching someone you love succumb to mental deterioration. In a moment, all of the memories that create a person and build a relationship become fuzzy, eventually fading away altogether. It is confusing, maddening, and impossible to understand. The two main characters in CEREBRUM have faced this hardship head-on, and one of them has made it their life’s mission to find a way to stop it from happening to others.
CEREBRUM follows Tom (Christian James, Hell Fest) as he returns home to help his estranged father Kirk (James Russo, Django Unchained) with a groundbreaking experiment: a memory back-up and restoration chip for people suffering from Alzheimer’s. We learn that Tom’s mother lost her battle with Alzheimer’s, which devastated both father and son. After so many years of anger and distrust, Tom refuses to forgive his father, but when Kirk suddenly dies, Tom is determined to continue his legacy and complete the project. As Tom struggles to navigate unknown technology as well as his emotions about the loss of his dad, there are outside forces attempting to coerce information from him and obtain the tech for themselves. With a little help from a childhood friend, Tom races against the clock to unlock the secrets that his father kept buried before the wrong people can get their hands on the project.
This sci-fi drama from director Arvi Ragu has a big bag of tricks and tropes and isn’t afraid to reach in and grab a fistful of both. While the idea is interesting at face value, the story suffers from a bloated plot and an unfortunate lack of character development. The audience never really knows who Tom is outside of his anger, and the sudden change of heart directly after his father’s death is neither justified nor fully believable.
Tom’s technology is complex and unexplained. The vessel in which memories are backed-up is a micro-chip in a wristwatch, and it seems that not only are past memories stored there, but personality continues to live on as well. Through the technology, there is also a surrogate capability – wherein a person can input their brain into another’s body – as well as what appears to be a virtual life after death as Tom uses Kirk’s micro-chip to converse with him and continue the work.
Indie sci-fi films such as this often suffer from overly ambitious concepts that can become muddled. The premise of CEREBRUM requires extreme precision and detail as, it is, after all, dealing with the complexities of the brain as well as the notion of the mind continuing to function after death. Unfortunately, the film simply doesn’t put in the work to fully form this concept. CEREBRUM is two-hours long, and even with that lengthy runtime, it seems as though the filmmaker was only able to realize a small part of their vision.
Logical leaps and convoluted technology aside, CEREBRUM does boast some interesting performances. Russo’s portrayal of a man whose single-minded focus has pushed away his only son is understated and sympathetic. James works with what he is given, and while, at times it feels like the actor may not entirely understand what he is talking about, his dedication to the role is admirable. At some point, a strange choice was made to give Tom a chewing tobacco habit, which results in some difficult to comprehend dialogue and a big distraction. The rest of the characters in CEREBRUM are mostly forgettable, including the presumed love interest who serves only as the angel on Tom’s shoulder. The men who wish to steal the information about the experiment are suitably villainous but aren’t given any complexity beyond that extrinsic motivation. In turn, this film lacks a certain amount of conflict and the stakes never really feel high.
Arvi Ragu’s CEREBRUM is a lengthy sci-fi thriller that doesn’t amount to much. Had the writer/director streamlined the runtime to focus more on character development and creating an internal logic for the film’s speculative technology, it may have been more successful. As it stands, CEREBRUM is a less than compelling watch.
CEREBRUM is now streaming from Glasshouse Distribution.