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Fantasia Film Fest 2023 Restore Point Review- A Tightly Paced Sci-fi Noir Is A Triumphant Directorial Debut

Crime thrillers and sci-fi work well together. That adjacent space where noir and speculative fiction dovetail is often where the best storytelling happens. Robert Hloz’s wildly ambitious and unexpectedly engrossing film is a slickly edited, slyly shot, and smartly conceived look at a dystopian near future where death comes quicker than it should but can easily be thwarted. Violence, greed, and opportunity are universal regardless of the time. Humans are fallible, and when there is a power imbalance, there will be those who take advantage of it. In Robert Hloz’s Restore Point, getting its North American premiere at Fantasia International Film Fest 2023, crystallizes that truth in a stunningly tight film that pays homage to those who came before them.

A succinct expository string establishes the rules of the world. In the near future, wealth equality has become so expansive that violent crime is prevalent. A pandemic of unnatural death has forced immortality. In this European future, everyone has the constitutional right to upload and restore their lives if needed. Like respawning in a video game, people would have their minds and bodies restored to the last upload point and begin again as if nothing terrible happened. Naturally, some oppose this technology, deeming it heretical and dangerous.

Restore Point feels like it could be a distant cousin of Altered Carbon or Blade Runner. Technology meant to protect us from violent crime has left a vacuum of unrest. The Restore Point technology can restore anyone’s life, but only if the backup is less than 48 hours old though. This creates an overriding sense of paranoia that is exacerbated by the terrorist organization River of Life, which is slashing through the city, holding people hostage until their restoration runs out, and then killing them. The company that invented and runs the program wants to develop a tiered pay system to fix that problem for anyone who can afford it. Those that can’t keep their forty-eight-hour windowed reboot. Those who have the money get the option of instantaneous and constant upload.

Our entry into this gritty, glistening world is detective Em Trochanowska, played with stiffened chin stoicism by Andrea Mohylov√°, who has a personal vendetta against the group after they killed her husband. She is a stereotypical hard-boiled cop who is toughened by trauma and insistent on her own way of doing things.

Em is called to investigate after the Head of Research at the Restore Point Institute and his wife are killed with no backup available. In his position, this seems rather impossible, and the twisty plot is set in motion. What Em uncovers isn’t as simple as a rogue spiritual group. When the technology was invented, the EU gave it to all its citizens. Furtherance of socialized medicine guarantees everyone a chance at surviving violent crimes. Now, the company behind the tech wants to privatize the service for monetary gain.

Expectedly this is the catalyst for everything that happens next. The Institute operates with the familiar belief that to safeguard people’s lives, infringing on their privacy is essential. That’s the most glaring tip: nothing is as it seems in this governmental service turned corporation. Think Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. On the opposing side is the philosophical value of life.

Visually Restore Point is gorgeous. Everything is just shiny and new enough to look futuristic but grimy enough to feel real. Hloz’s directorial debut proves he has a firm handle on direction and knows how to pace a film. There wasn’t a dull moment, and despite feeling like I had been dropped into a story I had seen a thousand times, I was thoroughly engaged. Clues are parsed at opportune times to keep the viewer guessing while giving them just enough information to think they might actually know what is going on.

The only criticism is in handling the big-picture ideas this kind of tech could alter. It is only touched on midway in the film when Em descends into the city’s seedy underbelly. That taste isn’t nearly enough. As disgusting and vile as that world is, I was enthralled with the idea of it even if we didn’t spend nearly enough time or thought on the possibilities there. The what-ifs are endless, and Restore Point fails to give us enough of the possible horrors of a world built on cheating death, paternalism, and corporate greed. There’s a lot of danger to forgetting and restoring. Additionally, off-book uses of the tech scream risks of designer babies and genetic tinkering. Restore Point only scratches the surface between what seems all too plausible and what already exists.

Hloz’s debut is an announcement that an emerging voice in sci-fi is here. It’s the kind of film you can easily see getting an English-speaking remake, although I’m not convinced a bigger budget and American actors will improve it. The accessible movie is relatable to everyone and makes the most of low-fi effects, a small budget, and a clever story. It is filmmaking at its best.

There are more than a few surprises that I won’t spoil but know they are smartly revealed at key moments to keep your head spinning. A nifty ticking clock device ensures the tension continues to rise. The film drives toward a climax that is as revelatory as it is dynamic. Hloz doesn’t show his cards too early and saves the best for last. Restore Point is filled with rich characters that feel organic in the space and more than a little familiar. Minimalistic effects are used well and are crafty enough bits of sci-fi sorcery to be worrisome and believable. Hloz’s film is Black Mirror’s San Junipero meets Frankenstein for the digital age. It is intelligent and inventive, and uses a thoughtful approach to complement futuristic concepts. There are implications in Em’sworld, and gifts come with strings wet wired directly into our brains.

Find all our Fantasia Film Fest 2023 coverage here.