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Have you heard of a new movie about a team of quantum physicists who build a revolutionary device that, once it’s set off, may change the course of the world forever?
In the case that you have, you’re probably not thinking of Aporia, a cleverly crafted sci-fi indie whose budget was only an infinitesimal fraction of the one used for Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, but whose emotional repercussions are just as palpable, if not more so at times.
High-concept and heartfelt.
Release date: Friday, Aug. 11
Cast: Judy Greer, Edi Gathegi, Payman Maadi, Faithe Herman, Whitney Morgan Cox, Veda Cienfuegos, Adam O’Byrne
Director, screenwriter: Jared Moshé
1 hour 44 minutes
Written and directed by Jared Moshé (The Ballad of Lefty Brown), the high-concept and extremely low-fi feature follows a trio of Angelenos who utilize a homemade particle accelerator to kill people in the past, causing unpredictable fallout in the present. Subtly acted and deftly scripted, if a bit generic in its execution, the Well Go USA release should find a few cult followers in theaters and a bigger audience on streaming platforms.
Judy Greer stars as Sophie, a recently widowed, struggling mother trying her best to raise a teenage daughter, Riley (Faithe Herman), who’s been devastated by the loss of her dad, Malcolm (Edi Gathegi), in a hit-and-run accident. Their lives are filled with sorrow and regret, but what if — and this is a big ask — they could change all of that?
Enter, Jabir (the formidable Payman Maadi, A Separation), an Iranian scientist who fled his homeland after his family was murdered by the regime, and who now makes a living as an Uber driver in L.A. while building a makeshift time machine in his own living room.
It takes some suspension of disbelief to accept that last part, which Moshé backs up with talk of “abstract particles” and other concepts that nobody is supposed to really understand. But science is hardly at the center of Aporia, which focuses much more on the ethical questions that arise when a bunch of people manipulate time and space to serve their own ends.
This happens once Jabir, who was a friend of Sophie’s late husband, explains that his device cannot send people back in time as it was meant to do, but can rather murder someone in the past, again using science not worth detailing here. If such a thing is possible, why not use the machine to go back and kill the drunk driver (Adam O’Byrne) who ran down Malcolm and ruined all their lives?
Once they do that, Moshé explores the ripple and butterfly effects caused by reuniting Sophie’s family while destroying another family in the process — in this case the widow (Whitney Morgan Cox) and daughter (Veda Cienfuegos) of the now defunct driver. Sophie soon gets buyer’s remorse, setting off further experiments that keep transforming their reality, creating a multiverse of possibilities without any end in sight.
Moshé minimizes the physics as much as possible, allowing his characters to wrestle with their morality as the dead keep coming back to life around them. Who profits from such time crimes? The victims who are spared, or a man like Jabir, hoping to avenge his family by saving innocent people — including children killed by a school shooter? And yet saving some lives means ending others, and playing God is not for everyone. (Paging Dr. Oppenheimer.)
With its low-fi effects and scaled-down aesthetics, Aporia recalls director Shane Carruth’s Sundance-winning debut Primer, another sci-fi indie where quantum physics changed the course of history for a small group of people. But whereas Carruth’s filmmaking was assured and inspired, Moshé tends to fall back on indie tropes — lots of handheld camerawork, a nonstop score that gets gushy in spots — that fail to give his movie the same edge.
He does however succeed in making his far-fetched scenario feel heartfelt for the three characters at its core, focusing on their emotions as they set off several chain reactions that inevitably come back to bite them. Greer, Gathegi and Maadi are all on-point as regular people facing spatial-temporal realities the impact of which they fail to fully grasp until it may be too late. Sure, they’ve changed the world, but be careful what you wish for.