It is difficult to know how far writer-director Iqbal Ahmed intends, in this his debut feature, to pay homage to the spirit of 1980s’ movie making. It is certainly hard to miss the extent to which The Answer is a film imbued with the atmosphere and motifs of eighties’ film craft. A combination of road movie, chase flick and aliens-amongst-us adventure romp, this is also a story that you could transpose from a modern day setting back to 1985 without much difficulty (if you were willing to swap mobiles for pay phones).
After an unnerving opening sequence, involving images of murder and kidnapping, the mood immediately lightens and never reverts to anything as disturbing. Bridd Cole (Austin Hébert), a taciturn mailroom clerk, ekes out an anonymous and solitary existence, shunning anything that might draw attention to him or his humdrum life. When a parcel arrives addressed to his mother, who died twenty years ago, a bemused Bridd finds himself the owner of a mysterious piece of handheld tech. After catching the eye of the feisty and forward office temp Charlotte Parker (Alexis Carra), things appear to be picking up for Bridd when he is suddenly pitched into a nightmare: his home is ransacked, his boss and his best friend are killed, and he is in the frame for murder. On the run together, Charlotte discovers that Bridd possesses impressive powers of mental and physical agility and lightning-fast reflexes. Following a series of pointers and recorded messages left by his parents, Bridd learns the truth of his identity and discovers the real reason why he is being remorselessly pursued.
Ahmed keeps his screenplay moving forward with a good sense of energy and pace, and (apart from that opening segment) there is a consistent tone to the piece. Carra has an easier job in the acting stakes as bad-girl-with-a-good-heart Charlotte, while Hébert does his best not to allow Bridd’s translucent nature to translate into the portrayal of an inconsequential action hero. It’s a tough ask, as “action Bridd” is pretty indistinguishable from “unassuming Bridd”, his hybrid-alien powers aside. Amidst the frantic rushing around, Ahmed does make time for a few moments of quiet reflection and of intimacy between his two leads, as she reveals the pressures of being rootless and on the fringes of the law, and he explains how, as an orphan, he hid his special talents to prevent people from shunning him.
Those scenes provide the pause-for-breath tonal contrast that an action picture always needs, but The Answer is hampered by a plot that makes little sense, and which relies on puzzling leaps of logic. The motivations of many of the movie’s protagonists are inexplicable, the central premise is muddled, and the finale lacks punch. The meagre budget is evident at key moments, not least in a disappointing design for the alien assassins who resemble, more than anything else, slightly sinister motorcycle couriers. As a low-budget indie debut, this calling-card feature should just be sufficient to carry Ahmed forward to his next project. But on its own merits, The Answer leaves too many questions hanging.
THE ANSWER / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: IQBAL AHMED / STARRING: AUSTIN HÉBERT, ALEXIS CARRA, DAVID S. LEE, ADAM SHAPIRO / RELEASE DATE: UK RELEASE TBC