|Are these your kids? Don't they have something better to do?|
InRealLife (2013) ***1/2
Dir. Beeban Kidron
Review By Greg Klymkiw
InRealLife might be the only science-fiction horror picture that is not fictional in any way, shape or form. It's solid cinematic storytelling and is in fact, a documentary feature that reels you into a genuinely creepy-crawly world. Director Beeban Kidron presents us with a reality in which children are stripped of humanity and it doesn't get scarier than this.
Here we witness how kids filter their contact and communication with others via an insidious online assault upon their individuality (or, as the best dystopian science fiction will always have us believe, their very souls). That this is a documentary that generally eschews boneheadedly dull journalistic balance for a sledge hammer to the face is totally the right move. Besides, I've long stopped believing in journalistic "balance" since it's mediated through the evil power of slanting stories to make you THINK that you're thinking for yourself and, more often than not, you aren't. Kidron's approach doesn't muddy the waters with fake objectivity, but rather, a subjective, personal point of view that keeps us watching, mouths agape and always wondering just how low the structural arc of the filmmaker's picture will take us.
Subjectivity on the part of an artist is, these days, the best way for audiences to think for themselves - to react, as if in dialogue with the material presented - to agree or disagree or at best, to engage.
The movie is so compelling and terrifying, I hesitate to stress the picture's considerable properties of entertainment value, but it's the very fact that the movie is as diverting as it is, that a door opens upon something we all need to face. The picture's importance as activist entertainment, if you will, cannot be denied. Though a 90-minute feature film can only glance upon the surface of such a huge subject, Kidron does so with such mesmerizing commitment and a deft juggling act of nicely selected tales of online addiction that the picture propels ever-forward and keeps our eyes glued to the screen.
Several of the stories are downright horrific and as such, Kidron wisely presents them with clear, simple compositions and just the right off-camera questions and conversation to let the kids do what they need to do and say. The same goes for the interviews with all the various experts in the fields of psychology, engineering, marketing and, of course, the various cyber worlds of texting, gaming, social networking, net surfing and face-to-face communications as explained and opined upon by said experts.
The atmosphere she creates during the various interviews smartly, subtly and appropriately dovetail into both the natural environments of the kids and their specific tales. The most pointed visual tone occurs during the sequence involving a young girl who so desperately wants a phone that she begins prostituting herself to raise enough money to get one. Kidron clearly needs to mask the teen child's identity and the room in enshrouded in deep, almost neo-noir-like high contrast blacks, white and shades of grey (with only brief muted dollops of other colours). Nowhere is Kidron's mise-en-scene more appropriate to the girl's tale than when she relates how, upon finally acquiring a cell phone it's snatched from her by a teenage boy who leads her back to a flat where she is forced to endure a gang-bang to get her phone back.
The direct contrast to this are the bright, warm hues attached to a gay teen who engages in a long-distance online relationship with another lad. Neither of the boys have met each other, yet when Kidron follows one of the boys on his long journey to finally meet his online lover, she makes superb use of the exigencies of production which, have yielded a travel day that is a more typically wet, rainy Blighty afternoon. Even the interiors, once the boys meet in person, match the exteriors - accentuating the sort of blue-grey dankness most rooms will naturally have during times of heavy precipitation. Here, though, the camera trains itself upon the two young lovers and their natural physical proximity and warmth cuts through the bleakness and we, like they, are infused with one of the few moments in the film of genuine warmth, of endearment and respect that offer a sense of hope to this otherwise bleak world of cyber communication.
These extremes almost provide a bracket to the myriad of visuals during other sequences that focus upon the tales related by so many other kids. And, for the most part, the stories cut through to bone marrow. We meet a variety of kids: for example, two young boys so addicted to internet porn that they happily and somewhat innocently expect women to look like porn stars and to perform sex acts identical to those they watch on their computer monitors. They express that anything less in real life would be a horrible disappointment.
There's a clearly brilliant young man who has messed up his otherwise promising academic standing at Oxford with his online addictions and now spends virtually every waking hour in front of a computer - social networking or gaming. When asked what he'd do if these options were not available, he admits, somewhat disappointedly, that he'd "probably" have to "read a book".
The tales continue, but are punctuated by a series of interviews with the experts who provide information and analysis that many of us probably know and/or ignore. Even scarier to me, if just how many parents are utterly clueless as to what their kids are up to and this is certainly reflected in a nasty case of cyber bullying Kidron shows us, one that escalates into every parent's worst nightmare.
In spite of the fact that I'm about 10 years older than the generations of parents who have spawned these slaves to the internet, part of me is shocked at their cluelessness and the other is not surprised at all - especially, I think, because I dove into the internet in the early 90s and experienced its growth first hand - using it as a tool, but not as a replacement for human contact. So many of my, or even younger generations, avoided online activity like the plague or until it was really too late for them. In spite of the fact that I don't really get how anyone in the modern world avoids things that can make life richer, I have to acknowledge that it's always important to grow with the advancements - especially if one's an adult because it's our growth that is responsible for the growth of our children.
The film hammers home a series of basic facts - most of which seem perfectly reasonable under the circumstances; that people look at their phones 150-200 times day, that material on the net is there to monetize, that the ever-new advancements online create natural Dopamine rushes and for me, most depressingly, that text is too much for most kids. One game designer acknowledges that older users will read instructions but younger users need one line or best, one word. Text is the worst thing. It means nothing to the kids. Even for discomfiting is when one of the interviewed "experts" notes that content drives traffic which, in turn, drives profits.
Websites are designed, pure and simple, to sell and worse, to track you. The threat to privacy has never been more insidious. The sites are there to collect date and with all this information comes REAL power. It's George Orwell and then some. Clouds, for example, or central data banks, are quickly replacing desktop information storage. Your personal information is "out there", not with you. Even more sickening is how social networking sites - especially FaceBook and the like, are training everyone, but mostly KIDS to undervalue their privacy. It's all about YOU unloading/uploading and the corporations COLLECTING, then USING the data to sell you, to control you, to DEFINE you.
Throughout the movie, like goose-flesh-inducing exclamation points are images of massive servers and cables accompanied by a soundscape that feels like some dystopian 70s science fiction film. At times we feel like we're being barraged with a kind of Danny Zeitlin Invasion of the Body Snatchers bed of aural terror.
There's no balance here - in spite of the film's brief nod or two to "positive" aspects of the internet and its effects upon young minds. Some might argue, it's just telling us something we already know. That might well be, but it does so with panache, skill and most of all, the powerful position that we never really know what we know until it's driven into us - again and again - with the power drill and jackhammer of an artist.
"InRealLife" is a Dogwoof Pictures presentation that plays at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema via KinoSmith. For further information click HERE.