Dir/scr. Simon Pummell. UK, 2015, 100 minutes
A rich mix of ideas about our fluctuating and parallel identities in the modern age fails to cohere into a sufficiently compelling story in Brand New-U, the debut narrative feature from documentary maker Simon Pummell (Bodysong). When we try to become the best version of ourselves, do we risk living a life that’s actually a lie? That’s just one of the intriguing questions posed by this ambitious London-set sci-fi, which competes for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature while making its world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Conundrums taxing audiences by the end of the film are more likely to focus on more basic topics such as who, what, how, why?
Untethered to a genuinely compelling storyline, the film makes only gestures at genre, and risks being stranded in the arty sci-fi zone
In a near future or alternative present, corporation Brand New U (unlike the film’s title, seemingly lacking a hyphen) creates “identicals”: new, improved versions of human beings, with better jobs, better lives, better skin, better clothes. The company’s motivation and business model are not examined, but we do at least get an insight into its methodology after Blake (Lachlan Nieboer) becomes its latest subject. He surrenders to Brand New U after his girlfriend Nadia (Nora-Jane Noone, The Magdalene Sisters) is dragged off by masked assailants, and a replicant version of her winds up dead at the scene.Seemingly the only way to stay in Nadia’s ambit is to join her as a “new lifer” in the Brand New U programme, but Blake’s determination to reconnect them both to their past lives invites violent reproach from BNU emissaries.
Matters get more complicated – and potentially more confusing – when a second version of Blake enters the story. Taking our continued interest very much for granted, Pummell manages to string together a number of individually strong and visually striking scenes, which cumulatively seem to add up to less than the sum of their parts.
Both leading actors present an appealing face to the camera, while Nick Blood (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) does a lot with his role as Blake’s new, apparently-friendly colleague whose role as a corporate spy doesn’t definitively get in the way of affection, or attraction, or something. Modern life, as we all know: it’s complicated.
Pummell scores with glancing shots at the social media platforms that present idealised versions of ourselves, and overall Brand New-U is amply stocked with contemporary relevance. But untethered to a genuinely compelling storyline, the film makes only gestures at genre, and risks being stranded in the arty sci-fi zone that’s an acknowledged challenge for any distributor. Overly deliberate pacing is likely to test audience patience by the end, especially in one particular scene where Slater uneventfully trains a gun on his identical self in a distant apartment block.
Shot in the UK and Ireland, the film benefits from a consistent futuristic look, with the location scouts providing acres of minimalist chic, including an appropriately beguiling, white, curved interior for the Brand New U HQ. As a metaphor for Pummell’s film’s style-over-content attainment, this empty space is nicely apt.
Production companies: Hot Property Films
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Producer: Jane Marmiot
Cinematography: Reinier van Brummelen
Editor: Tim Roza
Production design: Greg Shaw
Music: Roger Goula
Main cast: Lachlan Nieboer, Nora-Jane Noone, Nick Blood, Michelle Asante, Tony Way