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Director/screenwriter Khalil Sullins makes an auspicious feature debut with his audacious sci-fi thriller that’s as engrossing as it is thought-provoking. Exploring the nascent technology that will no doubt make mental telepathy a commonplace occurrence, and that’s a world we probably won’t want to live in, Listening features style to spare despite its obviously low budget. The film, which recently received its world premiere at the Woodstock Film Festival, instantly marks its creator as a talent to watch.
The central characters are best friends David (Thomas Stroppel) and Ryan (Artie Ahr), financially struggling grad students who’ve “borrowed” a garage full of scientific equipment to test their theories of harnessing the human mind that they hope will bring them fame and fortune. The results are promising but unsuccessful, until a comely fellow student, Jordan (Amber Marie Bollinger) provides inspiration that delivers a breakthrough.
But as an endless number of previous science fiction films have demonstrated, such power comes with considerable complications. At first they’re relatively minor, such as when David and his wife Melanie (Christine Haeberman) engage in a little mind-melding, only to have her freak out when she discovers that her husband has been harboring not so innocent thoughts about his female colleague.
But things get really dicey when the team finds their new invention becoming the object of attention from a secret government agency which isn’t exactly interested in using it for altruistic purposes. Although Ryan eagerly succumbs to the blandishments of its menacing representative (Steve Hanks), David takes it on the lam to Cambodia, where he consults with a monk (Arn Chorn-Pond) to develop the mental powers he needs to prevent their invention from becoming weaponized.
While the proceedings threaten to become a bit silly at times–such as the sight of the experimental subjects with endless wires attached to their shaved heads and endless scientific gobbledygook about “circular feedback loops” and the like—the filmmaker manages to make it surprisingly convincing. Adding greatly to the overall effect is the impressive widescreen cinematography by Blake McClure that uses a startling variety of color palettes and Edward Patrick White‘s creepily atmospheric musical score.
The film doesn’t skimp on production values—the scenes set in Cambodia were actually filmed there, for instance—and it boasts a terrific climactic scene in which David demonstrates his newfound mental skills with surprisingly lethal effect. Also nifty is the “flicker 3D” stereoscopic photography technique utilized to convey the telepathic effects, with the actors going through their often highly physical paces with admirable commitment.
It has its rough-hewn elements, to be sure. But Listening more than makes up for them with its imaginative depiction of science run amok.
Production: Listen Film
Cast: Thomas Stroppel, Artie Ahr, Amber Marie Bollinger, Christine Haeberman, Steve Hanks, Arn Chorn-Pond
Director/screenwriter: Khalil Sullins
Producers: Pardis Sullins,Travis Nicholson, Jamal Degruy, Khalil Sullins
Director of photography: Blake McClure
Editor: Howard Heard
Production designer: Alec Contestabile
Composer: Edward Patrick White
No rating, 98 min.