Director: Khalil Sullins
MPAA Rating: NR
Run Time: 100 Minutes
In this day and age, with every bit of our personal lives tied to our social media accounts and the widespread fear of our own government spying on us, there are very few places we can truly feel completely free. What if one of the most sacred places – a place where no one else could enter…our mind – was being threatened? This is the question director Khalil Sullins’ indie sci-fi film Listening proposes.
Three broke grad students, on the verge of eviction, develop a device in their garage that allows people to hear the thoughts of others – essentially a machine that grants users telepathy. Unfortunately, the CIA gets wind of what they’re creating and decides they want it for themselves, obviously in order to weaponize it.
The film stars Thomas Stroppel and Artie Ahr as David and Ryan, the two genius best friends who devise the technology, and Amber Marie Bollinger as Jordan, Ryan’s equally smart new girlfriend who helps them along the way. Too bad it’s not just the CIA they need to worry about; being broke and seeing and easy way to get some fast cash could also jeopardize everything they’ve been working so hard to achieve.
Listening proves to be a compelling film, and it’s thought provoking enough, but it tends to focus more on the relationships of the central characters rather than the moral implications and the science behind their invention. Too much time is spent establishing the rift that the project is causing between David and his wife and daughter, and the resolution to this conflict is almost non-existent. There’s also the ubiquitous love triangle that’s briefly introduced, however that too doesn’t go anywhere and feels needless in a film that already has sufficient plot to fill out a complete narrative.
The visuals are another area that feel dated and just don’t work. It’s a decidedly low-budget film that’s masked by ridiculously overused yellow and blue filters with more lens flare than a J.J. Abrams movie. This is a shame because otherwise the cinematography looks good, but holy cow – those filters. One thing they got right with the visuals was the effect used when people were hooked up to the telepathy machine. Yes, it had something of a music video vibe, but it worked in creatively conveying how it might feel when one’s mind is being bombarded by the thoughts of another.
Listening is a gallant effort from a first time director that just missed the mark for me. I tend to like these stripped-down, hard-science fiction stories, so I was mostly entertained, despite its numerous flaws. I would say if you’re looking for a simple bit of sci-fi and don’t mind copious amounts of filter usage and lens flare, you might want to give this one a look.