Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil) is talking over Skype to her boyfriend Cody (Newsroom's John Gallagher Jr). It's a typical cute conversation of a couple in a fairly fresh relationship. We learn that Virginia is in Berlin for some time and it becomes clear that she and Cody have never met face to face. As their conversation comes to a close we stay with Cody in his small New York apartment. The camera sweepingly welcomes you into his apartment space, focusing on his curtained off closet. Cody peels back the curtain to reveal an investigative collage of maps of the city, highlighted scribbles of areas to focus and Virginia's image at the sitting at the top like a target. Cody clearly believes that the object of his affections is closer to him than she's willing to admit.
This is the tantalising beginning of writer Director Zachary Wigon's examination into a truly 21st century relationship in the throes of online paranoia. As our lives are designed for broadcast to social media and films like Catfish have come along there's a far greater acknowledged distrust we're being fed online, especially in the dating game. Wigon shows the amorality of detachment. The title The Heart Machine describes the oxymoron of technology's interface with love. There's a short circuit between lives lived on-line and relationships in the exponential advancement and integration. It’s not just a giant philosophical exercise though; Wigon's guising big generational questions inside a thrilling, investigative pursuit. We've all become social media sleuths to dig into the lives of people moving toward your inner circle. It's always about protection, the inferred distance between you and anyone as you hold them at 'pokes' distance. Yet you're as open as a wound. While you'd think that social media would make Cody's task easier to qualify or disprove, Wigon complicates it with Virginia's insularity. Aesthetically conservative, Wigon treads a great line between the plain and honest twin Skype screens for this increasingly strained interaction that he's able to arrange quite poetic stares into the characters conundrums. Wigon is the silent passenger on Cody's roaming through the streets of the East Village. Tearing down numbered streets on bikes, or picking up the pace tracing the paths he assumes Virginia has travelled. Virginia's world is feels clinical regardless of the location.
Gallagher Jr's Cody is pouring his heart out to this exchange. He's being open in an effort to promote openness. The moment that he feels those pangs of betrayal he starts to go down a strange path. It's alienating because every interaction he conducts from then on becomes overt manipulation. He has to know the truth, even if the cost means unhinged pursuit and possible pain. Gallagher Jr has got a charm and a harshness that evokes the mutation that Cody's going through as a result of this situation.
Sheil's Virginia is lost. She's searching for a meaning, for a passion, for a connection and she's doing it with tools almost exclusively for the same goal; sex. Unfortunately her plight is self-made. Despite the fact that she's continuing to strum through a web of duplicity, she was least empathetic of the two characters.
One part Vertigo, one part Catfish - The Heart Machine is a great tale of modern paranoia as a result of severing personal connection.
[rating=3] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Zachary Wigon Written by: Zachary Wigon Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Kate Lyn Sheil