A ROUGH DRAFT / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: SERGEY MOKRITSKIY / SCREENPLAY: MAKSIM BUDARIN, DENIS KURYSHEV, SERGEY MOKRITSKIY, OLGA SOBENINA / STARRING: NIKITA VOLKOV, SEVERIJA JANUSAUSKAITE, OLGA BOROVSKAYA, YEVGENY TKACHUK / RELEASE DATE: TBC
A Rough Draft begins as a Kafkaesque mystery where the life of video games designer Kirill becomes gradually erased. A mysterious woman has taken over his flat, while his colleagues, neighbours, friends and even parents and dog have no idea who he is, leaving him with no life other than that offered by the interloper. He has been chosen, for reasons never established, to become the custodian of an abandoned tower that acts as a portal between parallel worlds, damned to an administrative purgatory for the remainder of his now-immortal existence.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko, the creator of Night Watch and its sequels. However, while that saga of a supernatural Cold War playing out on the streets of modern day Moscow fully embraced its utterly bonkers premise from minute one, this attempts to be something far more subdued, to the utter detriment of anything vaguely coherent.
Too much time is spent merely expressing ideas without much in the way of properly developing the characters or building a story, so much so that it’s well over an hour into the film before anything resembling an actual plot is threatened with emergence, and even then it’s something only mentioned so it will actually have some significance when revisited for the climax. Of the characters who do feature, their motives are largely impenetrable due to the story’s disjointed structure that flits about in chronology without making any effort to link its segments into a flowing narrative. They act differently towards one another at various points with nothing in the interim to suggest what might have happened to cause the change, giving the impression that the important events that lend the story lucidity have taken place off screen during the multiple time skips.
Various worlds are representative of aspects of Russian past and national identity, such as a Romanoff-era steampunk world of airships and wintery beauty and a dystopian gulag where dissidents are put to arbitrary labour for nebulous purpose. A whole mythology of transdimensional travel is suggested, but it largely goes unexplored and is only brought up for the odd expository infodump or disjointed set piece.
It isn’t even until late on that the title is even alluded to, making little sense in relation to what has so far been seen. The film doesn’t even have the decency to be a complete story, but ends things with a significant plot thread unresolved, suggesting it will be the focus of adventures to follow. Instead of anticipation for a sequel, the only feeling the incomprehensible mess leaves you with is one that perhaps might have been most appropriate at an unintended meta level.