High-concept techno-thriller Zero Contact is the latest mainstream movie determined to make a virtue out of the necessity of the Covid lockdown. Filmed during the global pandemic restrictions of 2020, the film was put together by a cast and crew based in locations across the globe who only connected with each other online. Recorded in physical isolation, the contribution of each actor was then stitched into the film’s complex narrative in post-production.
The large ensemble of scattered characters are all connected in some way to the legacy of the eccentric entrepreneur Finley Hart (Anthony Hopkins), the head of a major global company before he was ousted in a boardroom coup. With Hart now dead, his most controversial and potentially most dangerous new technology had been abandoned before its release. But five of Hart’s associates are contacted by an artificial intelligence insistent that they work together to restart his mothballed initiative. While the AI is adamant that their efforts will save the world, it’s soon apparent that other hi-tech forces, convinced of impending catastrophe, are equally determined to thwart them.
Given the challenges that the producers faced, the on-screen results are technically impressive and evidence of the filmmakers’ inventive problem-solving skills. The film’s design is strong too, with nifty on-screen visuals blended with the voyeuristic security-camera footage being harvested by an unseen observer. The script delivers some clever twists, and the largely static setting is broken up by some breathless running-whilst-filming phone footage. But it’s difficult to ignore the fact that, for a large part of the running time, many viewers will feel like they've joined a particularly intense Zoom call. Hopkins' involvement certainly lends the project gravitas. Yet Hart's solitary musings on life, the universe and everything (Hopkins riffing, unscripted) quickly become tiresome.
The film’s Covid-era credentials, and the script’s reflections on the themes of digital identity, online surveillance and the morals of mega-wealthy tech bosses, all chime with today’s cultural zeitgeist. But despite the laudable creative ambition, this is a film as frustrating as it is audacious. The behind-the-scenes snippets that accompany the end credits suggest that a 'how we made Zero Contact' documentary might be a more compelling watch than the movie itself. That said, two sequels are apparently already in the works.
ZERO CONTACT will be available in select theatres, on-demand, and digital on May 27th in the US, and later in the year in the UK