For far too many people, ethnicity and the color of someone’s skin means more than individual identity. Whether it’s shallow, fearful stereotypes or just plain ignorance about someone different, much of human history revolves around skin tone, and people are too often assigned groups with negative characteristics based on their color. That’s the obvious basis of the interesting, albeit amateurish indie sci-fi thriller Monochrome: The Chromism.
Filmed primarily in black & white, Monochrome takes place in a generic, unidentified small city where there’s some minor urban unrest. Isaac Ward (Joshua Bangle) is the protagonist, a young man who is randomly shot while walking down the street. Shockingly, his blood is bright red, not grey as with everything else in this monochromatic world, and it’s a color that everyone finds frightening and alien. Hospitalized and isolated, things just get more tense when his skin starts to turn color too rather than the uniform gray of everyone else in this colorless world.
But is this “hue” disease, as it’s called, actually the work of a nefarious government enterprise? A mysterious suited man and his big thugs want to grab Isaac so the faceless organization can experiment with his blood and isolate the virus. The tension ratchets up when this same group starts to push out stories to the news media about the danger of “Hues” – people who are infected with the virus – and the benefit to the common good of capturing and turning in any Hues spotted. Meanwhile, Isaac’s girlfriend Victoria (Cat Merritt) tries to help while simultaneously proving yet again that most male script writers just can’t create meaningful female roles: let’s just say that Victoria isn’t about to get an “A” on the Bechdel test.
Meanwhile, the paranoia-fed and reward motivated mobs get so out of control that even Isaac’s muscle-bound brother Jerry (Ryan Barnes) goes on a rampage, even turning on the parents who, predictably, also turn out to be “Hues”. For reasons not explained in the script, the entire Eastern coast of the United States are also being targeted by weapons from Great Britain, of all places. What the heck? The film ends apocalyptically with Isaac wrapped head to toe in monochromatic apparel, trying to survive in an isolated and mostly deserted town on the edge of nowhere. Cue pretentious closing monologue lifted almost directly from the last few minutes of The Terminator films.
Monochrome: The Chromatic is a really interesting idea and visually works very well as a sort of Twilight Zone episode (it is, in fact, reminiscent of the classic Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder”). A black & white film with spots of color for effect? Surprisingly effective, though it has, of course, been done before, notably in Sin City (2005), Schindler’s List (1993), Zentropa (1991), and in the classic shlock horror film I happened to also watch the same weekend, The Tingler (1954).
Once you get past the visual gimmick, there’s nothing really new about this well filmed and well assembled – albeit rather poorly written and acted – sci-fi thriller. I want a film that revolves around such a profound human issue as racism, discrimination and “otherness” to be more thoughtful and offer up new commentary or a better way to see the inherent stupidity of fearing or disliking someone based on superficial external characteristics.
Writer and director Kodi Zene indicates that this is the beginning of a franchise, but I suggest that’s a bit optimistic, the cinematic equivalent of “counting your chickens before they hatch”. Mr. Zene, I encourage you instead to work on getting your film to be solid, tense and engaging, learn how to draw the best possible performances out of your cast, think through the underlying message of your story, then make sure you can capture it all on film for a great viewing experience. Then worry about the sequel.
As is, I can’t really recommend Monochrome: The Chromism as other than a sort of SyFy Channel-esque b-movie homage. It would be fun to have the boys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff on it, perhaps, but otherwise there are plenty of better indie sci-fi films from which to choose.
Dad At The Movies Note: This is quite a benign dystopian sci-fi thriller and as such could serve as an entré to a discussion with tweens and teens about racism, stereotyping and whether we should fear otherness or embrace it. That might prove the greatest strength of this film, actually, and in that sense it could be great for families and even junior high and high school film studies classes to watch and discuss.