We are all made up of a combination of different versions of ourselves...
...Some use the phrase “wearing different hats” when talking about taking on different characteristics based on our surroundings and the current people we are interacting with, while others might experience the extreme version of this with Dissociative Identity Disorder. As seen in Split, different people (or at least personalities) live within a single person. Eric Schultz teams with writers Justin Moretto and Thomas Torrey to make Minor Premise, a film that falls somewhere in the middle of these two explanations with a story of a man who becomes separated from his different selves. Anxiety, anger, libido, unconscious, intellect, primitive, creative, euphoria, and a secret special ingredient help make up an entire human. When all sections of the character function as one, the brain can stabilize, however certain parts of the brain do not want to cooperate.
Dr. Ethan (Sathya Sridharan), does not quite reach the level of tortured genius typically seen in sci-fi/ horror films because, while his obsession with the brain puts him intellectually on the same intensity as Herbert West, his emotional stability does not give him the level of danger or unhinged-ness to truly reach mad scientist status (at least in the beginning). Ethan focuses on recalling memories—more specifically discovering the means to record and project recollections—but what makes his research more advanced (and more risky) than previous studies is his analysis of the importance of emotions hidden within our minds. While the good doctor finds merit and helpful reasons for his experiments, the ability to control memories (paired with his recluse lifestyle) makes most people observe his attempts as unethical. His former colleague Malcolm (Dana Ashbrook, Twin Peaks) does not understand Ethan’s obsessions and pressures the young scientist to abandon the research, which only pushes him further into obscurity.
Since Ethan locks himself away inside his home and does not get much recognition for his studies, the only available test-subject is himself. If the struggle with his own self-appointed expectations were not enough, the pressure from his university, colleagues, and a brilliant Einstein-comparable father further complicates his mental state. Oh, and he sometimes blacks out. The opening segments of the film take a close analysis of the life of a tortured genius as he drinks too much, works too hard, and alienates and avoids everyone around him. His goal for memory recall might benefit those with dementia and Alzheimer’s, but Ethan wants to use his findings to delete what currently exists in his head. Fortunately, when his progress meets a frustrating plateau, a mysterious benefactor sends him the key needed to unlock his mind.
After Ethan’s newest experiment, the director puts the audience firmly in the perspective of the scientist. Time becomes an unclear concept as Ethan’s mind misfires and malfunctions. Instead of living and controlling his life, Ethan becomes an observer of his past and present as an assortment of clips play out before him. Luckily, some version of Ethan thought to install security cameras, adding yet another level of separation between himself and reality. If the film becomes confusing to some viewers at this point, then the director accomplished their goal. If Ethan does not understand what is happening, then we are not allowed to know either. When the intellect version of Ethan gains control, he speaks candidly to “Ethan” via recorded videos; the combined versions of the scientist cannot communicate with the separated versions of himself. These videos offer part plot progression and part therapy session for the slowly dying lead character. The film’s disjointed and chaotic storytelling might disorient a few, but the collage effects of images and storylines adds to the re-watchability of the movie.
Only when colleague Alli (Patton Ashbrook Shameless) arrives looking for an explanation on why Ethan missed an important committee meeting does the director provide a narrative outside of the mentally unstable Ethan. The experiment does not make much sense and the film does not really explain how Ethan eventually diagnosed himself, but according to the doctor, he separated the different parts of his personality into ten discernable versions of himself. So, now, every six minutes a different version of Ethan gains control. It’s not a different character taking hold as in DID (split personality disorder), more like certain characteristics of Ethan becoming more pronounced. As each controlling characteristic takes over, the film demonstrates the predominant emotion through brief flashbacks to when Ethan and Alli lived as a couple. After the different “sections” cycle through, Ethan returns to the “default” version of himself where all pieces exist together. With the completion of each cycle, Ethan grows mentally and physically more unwell, so now the two must find a way to stop his collapse. As Ethan grows more dangerous, the reasoning behind not calling for outside help takes a distinct fork—Ethan feels a blind commitment to his research and continuing his experiment, while Alli follows a more emotional path and hopes to protect Ethan from further destruction (either in his career or in his life).
The fear of memory loss or a slow mental decline often plays an important part in horror movies and while Minor Premise might not add anything new to the depiction of psychological collapse, the film still creates an intense exploration of man vs self. However, the most interesting aspects of the horror come from the bond between Ethan and Alli because the film makes some strong commentary on abusive relationships. While Alli recognizes most parts of Ethan do not mean her harm, she fully understands certain sections are not stable and are abusive. We watch as the predictable cycle of abuse occurs when Ethan unleashes anger and violence, but then becomes clearer headed and apologizes to Alli, ultimately convincing her to stay. However, when the cycles grow in intensity and unpredictability, her loyalty remains with Ethan. Alli refuses on numerous occasions to alert outside help as a means of protecting Ethan with promises of “he doesn’t mean it” and “he will be better soon”. Even the setting of the basement and the ever-observing eye of the cameras further perpetuates the feelings of isolation and control. The film provides all the sad semi-sci-fi parts of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but without any of the fun or whimsy. Instead, expect a dramatic and perilous obsession with memory and all the pain associated with the inability to forget.
Minor Premise comes to select theaters, virtual cinemas, Digital and VOD from Utopia on December 4th.
By Amylou Ahava