Jeff Renfroe and Marteinn Thorsson's One Point O quickly gained a cult following when it was originally released, but interest in the film has waned since. Maybe it's because the film feels very connected to the era it was released, maybe it just didn't gain the critical mass needed to establish extended mindshare. Whatever the case, One Point O is little more than a lost curiosity now, with its next window of opportunity some 15 years away still. So in the meantime, I figured it would be nice to revisit the film and see if it was warranted to keep the memory of this film alive.
One Point O is a rather typical mindfuck/mystery flick, the kind of film you'd expect to see in the wake of Mulholland Dr.'s popularity. Of course, it wouldn't be fair to directly compare this film to Mulholland Dr., One Point O is a more direct, genre-derived alteration, with none of the directorial touches that made Lynch's film such a huge success. It does feature a very similar, dream/paranoia-like setup though and it puts mood well above narrative, so if you like to submerge yourself into dreamy, atmosphere-driven films, chances are you're going to like this one.
The setting is explicitly retro-futuristic. On the one hand the film deals with futuristic concepts like AI, androids, hyper-realistic VR, nano-bacteria and whatnot, on the other hand everyone is still using old landline phones and CRT monitors. It fits the dreary, rundown universe these characters inhabit (which is never really fleshed out, the film is mostly shot inside a single apartment building, save two or three scenes), but it's a purely aesthetic choice that doesn't make much sense beyond looking gritty and cool. Personally I'm fine with that, but your mileage may vary.
The plot revolves around Simon, a programmer who starts receiving weird, empty packages. He is somewhat of a loner and has little social interaction with the people in his building, but the packages are freaking him out so much that he starts reaching out to others living on his floor. Clearly his neighbors are aware something strange is going on, but nobody seems very willing to open up about it. When people start dying though, Simon has little choice to push through with his personal investigation in order to get to the bottom of the mystery.
In order to establish its deeply paranoid mood, films like these tend to rely on visuals quite heavily. One Point O is no exception. Toxic greens and oranges dominate the color palette, strong contrast makes colors pop and distorted camera angles help to underline the dream-like atmosphere. The editing too plays an important part, lending a nervous rhythm to the visuals, which further adds to the overall uncomfortable feeling. And the surroundings appear appropriately grim and derelict, a perfect look for the retro-futuristic vibe Renfroe and Thorsson chase so vigorously. A stunning looking film, though in dire need of a high definition re-release.
The music is very much in line with the visuals. Not quite as outspoken or in your face maybe, but the electronic-based soundtrack is a perfect match for the setting and gives the film that little extra. It also drives the feeling of paranoia further through and actively helps in controlling the film's pacing. It's one of those soundtracks that wouldn't be able to stand on its own very well, but is invaluable when it comes to establishing a specific atmosphere. A job well done in other words.
The cast does a good job too, with a young Jeremy Sisto drawing most of the attention to himself. He is excellent as the confused lead, though it has to be said this is a film that does a lot of the hard work for the actors. The secondary cast is also solid, but they're little more than a collection of quirky weirdos that cross Sisto's path in order to confuse him even further. Kier and Unger are perfect for their parts, but their performances won't win them any prizes.
The build-up of the film is rather predictable. Something strange is going on, several causes are presented, some are discarded later on and at the end you get a semi-surprise ending. If you're expecting some mind-blowing twist you're out of luck, then again this film is more about the atmosphere and the paranoia that leads towards the finale than it is about the finale itself. Nonetheless, the ending is pretty satisfactory in its own right, showing a mean streak that befits the subject matter.
Renfroe and Thorsson never really managed to reproduce One Point O's success, but at least they left us with this little gem. I'm not sure how much of an impression it'll make on newcomers, but if you're into mind benders and/or appreciate a retro-futuristic vibe then there's plenty to like here. One Point O looks very stylish, sports a strong score and benefits from a solid cast. It is pleasantly weird and strangely enticing, taking you on a disturbing trip with a fun finale. It's a neat little genre film that does everything right, ready to be rediscovered whenever the 00s are bound to have their moment of retro-hip fame.