When it comes to mind-bending science fiction movies, I have gotten into the habit of trying to stay ahead of the filmmakers to see if I can guess where the story is going and how it’s going to end. “The Sixth Sense” among other movies got me good, but now I want to beat directors at their own game. I don’t know, maybe I’m just sick of people playing with my head in general. But with Matt Duggan’s “Inverse,” it really helps not to second guess the filmmaker or to try to stay ahead of him. Just when you think you know where this movie is heading, it becomes something else and goes out of its way to defy your expectations. What I thought was going to be something along the lines of “Starman” or maybe “The Terminator” proved to be quite different, and it was in my best interest to watch it and take everything in.
“Inverse” opens on a small picturesque house in a suburban neighborhood where we see a naked man (played by Josh Wingate) emerging from a swimming pool with no idea of who he is. Once he steps inside the house, he finds pictures of himself and discovers that his name is Max, a man who actually died some time ago. His appearance causes quite a shock for his wife and other relatives who come into contact with him, but he can’t seem to remember who they are. Then Max is met by a man named Batter (Morlan Higgins) who informs him that he is actually from a parallel universe and has been travelling back and forth between universes to where his brain has been almost completely fried. As Max begins to realize who he really is, he comes face to face with people who want to learn all they can about the universe he is from, and that ends up putting him in grave danger.
Like I said, “Inverse” is not a movie you want to try to get ahead of. Duggan unveils the different layers of the movie’s story to where it helps to pay close attention. It invites repeat viewings so that you can get deeper into the story and discover new things. The first time you watch it will give you a visceral feeling as Duggan puts you right into Max’s shoes as he desperately tries to discover why he’s here, and you feel his insatiable need to get to the truth before he reaches an unfortunate end.
The other thing that intrigued me about “Inverse” is that it’s not your typical good guy/bad guy story. There are no heroes to be found here as everyone has a price to pay for the actions they end up committing. Not even Max is safe as he comes to discover the damage he has incurred during his various travels, and there is really only one person here that hasn’t done anything wrong, and yet that person still gets harmed inadvertently. I leave it to you, the viewer, to figure out who that person is.
“Inverse” meditates on what it might be like to live in a universe where the level of intelligence is higher than our own. It would certainly be nice to use more than 20% of our brains, so the appeal of certain characters wanting to discover the secrets of this other universe is certainly understandable. The movie also shows that quest for higher intelligence can be an obsessive one, and it gets to where we realize that there is only so much we should be allowed to discover as it may lead to our undoing.
The cast is all around excellent, and hopefully we will get to see more from them in the future. Wingate carries the weight of this movie on his shoulders as we stay with him from the first scene to the last. It’s almost exhausting to watch him here as he is forced to exhibit a wide range of emotions, and he succeeds in making you feel all of them.
There’s also a great supporting performance from Morlan Higgins as Batter, a character who serves as Max’s conscience throughout the film. We watch as Batter explains to Max how he got to where he is now, and in the process of trying to do the right thing, Batter ends up imprisoning himself into a mental cage that offers no easy escape. Higgins is actually one of the most well-known on the Los Angeles theatre scene, and he proves to be one of those actors who inhabit a character more than he plays one. You never catch him acting, and that’s one of the joys of watching his performance here.
In addition, you have strong turns from John Burish as Tommy, Max’s brother, who is put in a difficult situation of putting a close family member in harm’s way in order to get at the truth of what’s going on. There’s also Alanna Priere and Michele Lawrence who play the women in Max’s life who are not all they appear to be. To say more about their characters would be giving too much away, so I’ll leave you to see how they fit into this story.
But the best performance in “Inverse” belongs to Chris Pauley who ends up playing two roles here. The most notable role of the two is Bert, a man who knows who Max really is and where he’s from. Pauley is utterly riveting every moment he appears onscreen as he interrogates Max through various methods, one of which includes him rocking out to some techno music for no easily discernable reason. You never know what Pauley is going to do next, and you can’t take your eyes off him for one second.
“Inverse” was made on a very low budget (under a million dollars), and Duggan makes the most of it. In the end, this is a sci-fi movie that thrives more on ideas than on spectacle. Even if the pace drags a little, Duggan holds your attention throughout as the effects of Max’s actions become all the more clear towards the movie’s conclusion. Credit should also be given to the movie’s producers, Stephanie Bell and Trevor Boelter, for seeing it all the way to its completions. Like a lot of low budgeted movies, this had a long journey to the silver screen, and it proves to be worth the wait.
Rumor has it that Duggan wants to make a trilogy of movies starting with “Inverse,” and it would be very interesting to see where Max’s adventures will go from here. This is a movie that is coming way, way, way beneath the radar, and it deserves a very large audience. Here’s hoping that we eventually see a sequel to it.