Movie Review: Backwards Faces

Backwards Faces is a cerebral sci-fi comedy from writer-director Chris Aresco, which unpacks quantum mechanics and the many-worlds theory. A multiverse hypothesis that implies that there are an infinite number of universes that exist at the same space and time as our own, this becomes the high concept for this black-and-white indie film about the morning after a theoretical physicist encounters a man who claims he can jump multiverses.

Backwards Faces shares some similarities with Kevin Smith’s Clerks, opting to shoot in black-and-white, latching onto black comedy, focusing on a young cast and brandishing its status as an independent film. The black-and-white film gives it a niche quality, which while unconventional for science fiction, sets it apart and creates an otherworldly quality to its apartment-based location.

The black comedy comes through in the quickfire verbal interplay as courtship dynamics make way for lofty academic discussions about quantum mechanics and multiverse theory. While it’s tricky to follow the thread of the conversation, the verbal jousting is established with a rhythm that makes it easier to just go with the flow. Enough key points land in order to compel the story, even if you’re not quite following, offering a series of simpler visual clues to make things clearer. Moving from an analysis of a one night stand and relationships, things naturally diverge into the idea of multiverse-hopping.

A two-hander, Backwards Faces co-stars Andrew Morra and Lennon Sickels, who are more than up to the task of realising this single location sci-fi comedy with a few dabs of romance. Starting with the familiar territory of a one night stand, the actors branch out as the awkward post-coitus scenario transforms into a mind-bending game of cat-and-mouse. Morra is reminiscent of Evan Peters, a charming and funny actor who is adept at playing both sides of the coin. So focused on its co-leads, it’s essential that he share on-screen chemistry with Lennon Sickels, whose earnest and headstrong performance makes her the Scully in this dynamic.

backwards faces movie

“You’re not yourself.”

An independent film, Backwards Faces relishes the opportunity to push boundaries, grappling with some cerebral discussions to elevate the dialogue from masturbate to mass debate in a heartbeat. The black-and-white film, indie aura, rapidfire delivery and New York setting gives the film a Woody Allen undertone to its situational screwball comedy. While it would’ve been curious to expand beyond the apartment’s four walls, either by establishing the apartment or entering another multiverse, budgetary constraints keep it locked into the apartment, hovering somewhere between Big Bang Theory and Before Sunrise.

Chris Aresco has done a great deal using imagination and available resources with Backwards Faces. It’s better not to lean on cheap visual effects, even if you’re employing a Hot Tub Time Machine type story device. Backwards Faces While brisk at 68 minutes, Backwards Faces doesn’t overstay its welcome, keeping the dialogue free-flowing, dexterously toying with its hybrid genre and locking into the backwards faces and solid performances. The soundtrack is almost as minimalist as the production design, understandable on a modest budget but unintentionally alienating.

Backwards Faces is written as if it could have been a stage play. Keeping things intimate and based at a single location, helps the filmmaker get a handle on the moving parts of his vision. Aresco has built the film on his actors, characters and writing, crucial factors of any film that are well-crafted and captivating enough to maintain the slow-burning and see-sawing suspense. Leveraging the power of imagination, Backwards Faces tables edgy topics ranging from premature ejaculation, quantum mechanics, Nihilism and cannibalism to the bounds of self-responsibility. The sci-fi comedy deals with multiverse theory but does give a few nods to landmark films within the subgenre such as Back to the Future and Groundhog Day.

Much like Inception, Aresco avoids over-explaining the mechanics behind Backwards Faces. While a good idea in most cases when the illusion of an concept doesn’t necessarily require a blueprint to work on screen, this aspect could have used a bit more detail. Not quite establishing the rules of bathroom “etiquette” around a wormhole, this loosely handled device generates suspense from uncertainty at first but does raise some strange questions around the room’s actual intended function.

Backwards Faces is a niche film that capitalises on its edgy dexterity to turn its high-minded discussion and indie spirit into something unconventional yet effective. While its modest budget may restrain its overall quality and scope, it’s elevated by the depth of writing, genre play, performances, twisty storytelling and underlying tension of its psychological drama. A strong concept and scenario, Backwards Faces warrants further exploration and while possibly too much of a headscratcher, could easily justify a parallel universe where it exists as a Hollywood sci-fi romcom.

The bottom line: Provocative

splingometer 6