OXV: The Manual: Fantasia Review

A sort-of love story with echoes of Orwell and Huxley

A caste-driven alternate reality is shaken up by a mysterious new technology.

MONTREAL — Imagining a world where class divisions aren't creations of history but natural laws, Darren Paul Fisher's OXV: The Manual watches as an ill-fated romantic attraction leads to the discovery of technology that could disrupt society. Avoiding the production-design cues typically employed by sci-fi, the picture works solely with its ideas, producing a tale with some of the flavor (if not the political heft) of a 1984 or Brave New World. The right kind of attention at festivals could lead to a modest arthouse run.

In this tweaked version of our own universe, children are born with their bodies operating at a certain "frequency." It isn't visible to the eye, but it determines everything about how the universe treats you. As a headmistress says to the parents of young Zak, whose frequency test has come back incredibly low, "he will never be in the right place at the right time."

Zak is smitten with Marie, a blonde girl so Stepford-perfect that no one had to inform her parents her frequency test would be off-the-charts high. But "opposites attract" doesn't apply in this reality: Here, the higher the difference in frequency, the less compatible a couple will be. Zak's gap with Marie is so high that the physical world simply can't abide their being close to each other. If they stand together for more than 60 seconds, unexpected rainstorms attack him while leaving her dry. Luggage falls from planes traveling overhead, trying to squash the boy who would violate the natural order. Yet Zak very much wants to be near Marie, and Marie (if only as a research project) is willing to play along.

As the children age, the film has fun with their attempts at flirtation; their thwarted connections are both comic and poetically sad. It also shows some sympathy for Marie, whose perfection is a burden that will literally never allow her to feel emotions for those around her. Years later, young-adult Marie (Eleanor Wyld) is approached by grown-up Zak (Daniel Fraser), who has been traveling the world and making something of himself. "I think I can help you," he says.

Zak has been immersed in science all these years, and has stumbled on a technology that counteracts differences in frequency, bringing hers closer to his level and vice-versa. When they begin a relationship, Marie has to learn what it's like to miss trains, spill things, and be nearly hit by cars. But she's feeling love. Or, as the script puts it, "a new type of quantum entanglement."

Zak's a little secretive about the nature of his discoveries, and it turns out he doesn't fully understand them himself: As the plot progresses it appears his "OXV" device grants users the power to control others -- giving new meaning to all those love songs about being "under your spell." In increasingly agitated scenes, not only the couple's relationship but the bedrock of civilization is imperiled.

Though the explanations Fisher comes up with for his sci-fi contrivances may not be fully satisfying in the end, the conceits themselves offer much to play with, bringing the film into that pleasing area where an imaginary reality has interesting things to say about our own. Particularly about free will and the way we form relationships: "I love you, but only because you told me to," Marie says at one point, voicing a concern lovers have had, in one form or another, in realities beyond that of OXV.

 

Production Company: Incurably Curious Productions

Cast: Daniel Fraser, Eleanor Wyld, Owen Pugh, Dylan Llewellyn, Georgina Minter Brown, Tom England, David Broughton-Davies, Emma Powell, David Barnaby, Doris Zajer, Timothy Block

Director-Screenwriter-Producer: Darren Paul Fisher

Executive producer: Daniel M. San

Director of photography: James Watson

Production designer: Jonathan Ward, Amy Harrison

Music: Blair Mowat

Costume designer: Mila Todorovic

No rating, 104 minutes

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