Movie Review: ‘Anon’ a Classy Futuristic Thriller
In Anon, a dystopian neo-noir detective story now streaming on Netflix, a cerebro-ocular implant called the Mind’s Eye allows users to access information on a Google Glasses-like whim: glancing at a person will bring up their name and other information, while looking at a hot dog might deliver nutritional data.
And instead of looking at reality, people can also instantly switch to whatever else they want, rendering devices like TVs and computers obsolete. But there’s a catch: everything they see is recorded in the Ether, a database of events accessible by authorities.
For future future cops Sal Freeland (Clive Owen) and Charles Gattis (Colm Feore), who can instantly access records of anyone else’s point of view at any time, that makes solving a murder a perfunctory task. Even without a witness, they need only to watch footage from the victim or suspect to know exactly what went down.
But when a serial killer is able to hack into their victim’s minds, well, things start to get a little interesting.
The killer changes the victim’s perspectives into their own, giving them a first-hand perspective of their own murder while hiding their own identity from the police. But each victim had a potential connection, previously working with the hacker to erase some unwanted memories.
An undercover investigation brings Owen’s detective into contact with a hacker and prime suspect who goes by the name Anon, played by Amanda Seyfried. Sal hires her to erase an encounter with an escort, while police hackers played by Mark O'Brien and Joe Pinque attempt to track her through the Ether afterwards.
A fitfully fun little thriller that never really gets going, Anon still gets by on chilly-cool atmosphere with its grey, vaguely-futuristic Toronto landscapes (shot by Transformers cinematographer Amir Mokri) and minimal glitch soundtrack by Christophe Beck.
But what’s really neat in Anon is how writer-director Andrew Niccol plays around with his premise: the hacker live-edits what Owen’s cop is seeing, sending him tumbling down the stairs when he misses a step or into harm’s way when he nearly steps onto a train that isn’t really there.
And Anon gets a lot of mystery-movie mileage out of the concept of not being able to trust the pre-recorded memories, something that parallels real memories and present-day crime investigations.
Still, it’s easy to see where things are headed, and after a compelling first two acts Anon wraps itself up in disappointingly generic thriller movie fashion; the revelation of the killer’s motive is a particularly head-scratching element. Still, Anon is bolstered by two engaging leads, and Owen and Seyfried even get to share a surprisingly steamy sex scene.
Director Andrew Niccol made a big splash with the now-classic sci-fi thriller Gattaca in 1997, and continued to deliver thought-provoking ideas in less-successful features like Simone and In Time. Anon, too, plays with a future world that serves as a commentary for contemporary ideas like the loss of privacy and the dangers of living in a virtual, and hackable, world.
Anon isn’t Gattaca, either, but it’s a thoughtful return to the sci-fi realm for the director after the young adult adaptation The Host and the military drama Good Kill. And if it feels like a more budget-friendly Netflix version of some of his previous features, well, that’s precisely what it is.