Directed by Vladan Nikolic
Zenith requires a lot of explanation. The film is using a multi-platform approach to its release by transcending the traditional theatrical debut and extending into other media, primarily by encouraging audience interaction online. Unfortunately, as a stand-alone feature, Zenith is unsatisfying for those of us who choose not to interact beyond watching the film.
Zenith strives to be a gritty, dystopian cautionary tale but ends feeling like a rip-off of Fight Club, including the dry third-person voiceover. The film opens with a bizarre disclaimer explaining that the filmmakers are not responsible for anything bad that happens to the audience. It warns that there are strobe lights in the movie, but also that the information in the film is illegal. This is one of many half-baked attempts to break the fourth wall, the worst being when director Vladan Nikolic credits himself as “Experiment Supervisor.”
The actual storyline is the most interesting part, so its purposeful vagueness is distracting, rather than compelling. Zenith takes place in 2044, when all humans have been genetically enhanced to always feel happy, which has led to a backlash of permanent numbness. Enter the brooding anti-hero Jack (Peter Scanavino), who sells illegal, expired pharmaceuticals to eager junkies who are addicted to the negative side effects. In this brave new world, people take drugs in order to feel bad, one example of several creative concepts that aren’t fully explored.
Jack discovers that his father, Ed, created a series of videotapes chronicling his pursuit of a grand conspiracy known as “Zenith,” a search that may have ultimately led to Ed’s death. The film jumps back and forth between Ed’s home videos and Jack’s quest to figure out what happened to make the human race lose its humanity. In the meantime, he gets involved with a rich prostitute named Lisa, whose character is sparsely developed beyond several gratuitous sex scenes.
As the audience, we are encouraged to find the rest of Ed’s lost “tapes” on Zenith‘s website and draw our own conclusion, which means the ending is deliberately confusing. This would be less jarring if the tone remained vague throughout; instead, there are long, rant-like explanations from both protagonists, as well as other characters that feel the need to talk directly to the camera. There is a disproportionate amount of talking heads to plot development, which becomes increasingly frustrating as the film takes itself more and more seriously.
Releasing a feature with a strong online presence is not a new concept. Requiem for a Dream had a painstakingly convoluted website that supplemented the film, but it wasn’t used to fill in plot holes. Back in the late ’90s, Gattaca had a site where you could design your own genetically enhanced babies. Zenith and its “transmedia” approach to storytelling could very well become an Internet phenomenon, but only for those who want to take the time to tell the story themselves.