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I-Lived. 2015. Directed and Written by Franck Khalfoun. Starring Jeremiah Watkins, Jan Broberg, Shannon Collis, Josh Cowdery, Nic D’Avirro, Luis Fernandez-Gil, and Sarah Power. Bleiberg Entertainment. Unrated. 97 minutes. Mystery/Thriller.
I was, and still am of course, a huge fan of Franck Khalfoun’s remake for Maniac, and I thought it was one of the best horrors I’d seen since the start of the 2000s. Even the lacklustre P2 wasn’t all terrible.
However, we’ve arrived at Khalfoun on his latest outing – I-Lived. I think there are some interesting ideas here because I really do enjoy new films that try and explore the latest technologies via fiction, or speculative type science fiction – and this has elements of that: the wonder, and the horror, of the future of social media, the internet, apps, and so on. But instead of Khalfoun delivering something innovative and terrifying the way Maniac worked for him, we get a lukewarm piece of thriller cinema, which could have been a good movie had it been written much better, right from the plot and the story down to dialogue and characters.
I-Lived sees Josh Fosse (Jeremiah Watkins), a 20-something and fledgling app-reviewer who hopes to work with a big tech company, try and squeak through life: his rent is way past due, his girlfriend is gone, he constantly has to duck his landlady, and nothing is going on in his life, whatsoever. Then Josh discovers the I-Lived app – you put in life goals, and the app tells you how to achieve them, the steps, and all kinds of suggestions – which promises not only to improve just a single aspect of his life but life in general. At first, things don’t seem to be working much. Once Josh gets serious about testing the app, his life automatically gets better with every passing day – he gets a new girl, he lands a new show online for a big tech company, and in general Josh becomes a more confident guy, et cetera. Finally he decides it’s him doing all this, not the app, but after the app is gone things spiral – the girl leaves him for someone else better looking and more successful, his viewers go down big time, and generally his life becomes awful once more. Soon, when Josh types his new goal into the app, ‘Make my mom better’, the app starts telling him to do more questionable things – the first being “kidnap someone”. This leads into dark, dark places for Josh and his already rough life.
Not overly impressed at all by the script Khalfoun managed to come up with, and I wish I didn’t feel the way. There’s real excellent ideas here, maybe even some profound musings on how we simply accept the terms & conditions of all this new technology (iPhone updates, Facebook, the list goes on…) without ever looking at it all – some people do, most of us do not. Maybe there’s also some moral ground in there to be covered much more in-depth. Sadly, Khalfoun squanders a lot of the greatness that might have been mined from this idea. The main character Josh Fosse [Watkins] goes over well at times, others he is annoying, a little dumb, and even obnoxious. Not to mention there are lapses of common sense in the script, such as the fact Josh has no money, he can’t pay his rent – the landlady says it’s been 3 months or so – and yet he somehow manages to do one of the tasks his I-Lived app suggests: he gets a tattoo. Now, maybe he had a little cash put away, but the dumb dolphin tattoo he gets is a decent size; not huge, not small though. There’s no way I can believe he had the money to just walk into a shop and get a tattoo, not when his finances were clearly in the toilet. That was a dumb moment.
Overall, I didn’t like Josh as a character. It isn’t that I hate him, I just thought he was badly written, and I don’t particularly like the performance by Jeremiah Watkins; he flip flopped from being all right to just blah. The online videos he did were brutal, I hated those because his personality was so over-the-top, and perhaps that was the point – a lot of online reviewers, vloggers, et cetera, have that zany type of speech and way they act – it just did nought for me, turned me off from Josh as a character in general. As time went on, I liked Josh less and less; not for what he did, for the way he was developing. It was like there was no real progression in him as a character – he got worse, but it was like that never properly came across between the script and Watkins’ mediocre acting.
There was one great scene where Josh has a bit of a hallucination, more like a dream: he sees his mother after he comes home, she is in the kitchen, her slippers off, there are shards of a broken plate all over the kitchen floor, and she is weeping – she picks up a piece of the plate, jagged and sharp, and tells Josh “you did this”, blaming him as she cuts a nice bloody smile across her throat. It is a whopper of a scene, which I did not expect because mostly this plays like a genuine mystery-thriller, and the acting from Jan Broberg as Josh’s mother creeped me out like crazy. If only Khalfoun could’ve made more of this creepiness happen throughout, maybe I’d feel different about the film as a whole. There’s one other scene where Josh and his landlady… work things out, so to speak… and that was decent enough. It couldn’t reach the same level as the scene with Josh’s mom in the kitchen, though, that was a great horror-ish moment.
I watched this entire movie, but I feel like I could’ve easily just paid part attention and got as much out of it as I did seeing the full running time. A few points it was even just straight up CheeseFest 2015 – the reversal of I-Lived = Devil-I? Come the fuck on, Franck! I mean, you could figure that ought on your own just by looking at it, did Josh have to flip it around and physically see it? Did it need to be explicitly stated like that? Man, oh, man… disappointing.
Khalfoun is capable of better, he did Maniac and it really impressed me, this was just a huge letdown. There were unsettling moments here and there, one great shocker of a scene. Past that, I was not pleased with the whole film, not in any way. The ending did nothing to change my mind after making it all the way through this lame-duck thriller. SO HEAVY HANDED, FRANCK! THE HORNS ON THE WALL SHOT – REALLY? DEVIL HORNS, FRANK? Just… I mean… what happened to implicit storytelling? Everything is spelled out in front of us here, so much so that it’s frustrating. This could’ve been a good story at times, but no – Franck had to hit us over the head, over and over, with ultra-tired “evil inside” type buggery.
The final moment with Josh basically expresses how I felt after watching this movie. And at least that brief effect looked cool.
There aren’t that many films I genuinely feel are complete and utter wastes of my time, I try to really look for something to latch onto whether it’s sound design, score, acting, make-up/effects, or anything I can… here there is nothing I truly enjoyed past tiny bits and pieces. I do hope Khalfoun comes back with something a hell of a lot better next time. Because this is a lot of nonsense and numbskulled filmmaking, in my opinion.
Not every last scene was trash. Close enough, I guess. I liked the premise, it could’ve been a contender. In the end, it has nothing special or innovative, and the poster line that says “A New Film Experience from Franck Khalfoun” is total rubbish. I can’t recommend this, other than to see how he followed up Maniac. On my list of highly forgettable fodder for 2015.