Conformal Cyclic Cosmology. This is a theory suggesting events in the remote future co-exist with events in the past, essentially defining “here” and “there” as being the same. If that statement sounds confusing to you, then Tangent Room is not the movie for you…
…Written/directed by Bjorn Engstrom (The Meaning of Hugo), Tangent Room is a highly intelligent little film about four brilliant scientists who find themselves trapped in a mysterious room by their asshole of a fellow genius friend, Dr. Wahlstein (Daniel Epstein). In a race against time to prevent the cosmic collapse of the universe, the four must work together to solve a vague puzzle before time runs out, with nothing to work with but some numbers listed in a video left by Wahlstein.
There are complex thrillers, and then there are complex thrillers that are too smart for their own good. Tangent Room falls into the latter category. I’m not sure who the audience for this film is, but it certainly isn’t for the general public. And that’s okay. But for those looking for a fun, scientific thrill-ride, Tangent Room isn’t it. This film is a science-y thriller without any of the thrills, and all of the science. Remember those commercials with the eggs frying in a pan that would say, “this is your brain on drugs?” If they made a commercial like that for Tangent Room, it would be your actual brain being dribbled down a basketball court by Shaq. This is your brain on Tangent Room. This film is a mind fuck and then some.
Engstrom wastes no time moving the plot along. A good choice, considering the film would probably be pretty boring without the quick pace. It already walks the line of interesting and filmic sleep aid. We meet our small cast as they enter a claustrophobic classroom, composed of Sandra (Lisa Bearpark), David (Hakan Julander), Carol (Jennifer Lila), and Kate (Vee Vimolmal). We’re barely introduced to these people before a tape recorded by Wahlstein comes on to tell them they’re all going to die unless they figure out a list of numbers he’s given them. Tangent Room is a frantic film that doesn’t allow the audience to play catch up. You’re either following or you’re not, and with how much of a complex number dump the film is, you’re probably not.
What Tangent Room so astronomically fails to do is establish who these characters are and what they’re doing. We know that they’re in some kind of danger, emphasized by the fact that the door gives a good electric shock to anyone who tries to escape, but most importantly, we have no idea what the characters are actually doing to prevent said disaster. There is a puzzle with numbers, but all our cast is ever doing is writing down notes or asking “What’s going on?” so often that you’ll begin to wonder that yourself. Imagine the film Cube, but without the excitement, violence, or production design. Like that film, our heroes are working with numbers and equations to solve a mathematic problem, but the script gives them so little to do, that it’s easy to begin to lose interest, because the audience doesn’t get much of a sense of any kind of threat looming.
The characters don’t help to drive the story either. They’re about as bland as the room we find ourselves in for sixty-four minutes, lacking any real personality, as hard as the cast tries to bring some out. Or maybe that’s just because they’re boring mathematicians, I don’t know. Engstrom seems to know this is an issue, giving each cast member a bright, dream-like flashback to a memory which fits into the moment, but even these are so vague that they offer little if any character development. The measly hour-long running time works both against and to the benefit of Tangent Room. The film works better as an airtight thriller with a quick pace, but arguably could’ve used more time on the clock to develop these characters and the threat at hand.
Speaking of the “threat”, this is where Tangent Room goes from curious scientific suspense to mind-boggling mess. Going back to those words which the film opens with, Conformal Cyclic Cosmology, (CCC for short), what that ultimately means is that our cast begins teleporting all over the room as various “dimensions” converge in the space (again, we as the audience are clueless as to why this is happening). It’s an interesting concept, one that at first is effective in sparking our curiosity, but quickly feels played out. Especially when we’re treated to what is essentially twenty straight minutes of trying to keep up with dialogue heavy moments as characters teleport all over the room, cutting their sentences short and picking them up at a different point over, and over, and over again. Needless to say, Tangent Room starts to get pretty repetitive, which is a killer for a film with such a short runtime.
Maybe the confusion and disinterest would feel worth the wait if the ending were the big bang that we’re lead to believe it will be, but instead, Tangent Room is left feeling incomplete, with an anti-climactic ending that only raises more questions instead of answering, well, any. I can be fair and admit that maybe I just didn’t “get” Tangent Room. It certainly wasn’t for me. But it wasn’t for lack of trying, and it isn’t that the film lack intrigue. The ideas posed by Engstrom and his script for Tangent Room are fascinating. The problem is that Engstrom’s film does little to reward patience. So, unless your big on perplexing scientific discussions, I’d recommend waiting to stream this one from the safety of your own time and space.
Tangent Room is now available on VOD from Epic Pictures
By Matt Konopka