Interface (2023) Review: Science-Fiction has always been a genre of possibilities. Time travel, space journeys, and the current trend of multiverses enable audiences to vicariously explore the possibilities of human existence beyond our monotonous lives. And if done right, it can even lead to Academy awards, as in the case of the brilliant Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) — a story of a mother traversing through various alternate realities to save her suicidal daughter.
The recent low-budget science-fiction drama Interface (2023) employs a similar plot with the roles reversed as a daughter travels to several dimensions to retrieve her dying mother, with whom she has a strained relationship. Even though the well-intentioned film carries the same thematic core as the Daniels masterpiece, Interface struggles to execute its plot into a compelling sci-fi drama.
Directed and co-written by Kemo Diatta (with the story by Rebecca Norris), Interface follows sisters Claire (Samm Wiechec) and Kaley (Makenna Perkal), who are dealing with the death of their scientist father, who was killed in a hit-and-run case. Adding to their worries is their dying mother, Michelle (Robyne Richards), who has had a strained relationship with both her daughters due to Michelle abandoning them during childhood.
While Kaley wants to forgive and forget, Claire still blames her mother for leaving them. Running parallel to this narrative is the story of Mr. Palmer (Michael Sigler), a vicious business magnate who wants to bring his daughter back from her coma. To achieve this feat, Palmer threatens Majed (Andrew Vela), a scientist, to create a device called ‘Interface,’ which enables one to communicate with another person on a subconscious level (Inception, anyone?)
Three months later, Michelle falls into a coma when her supply of mysterious kidney medicine stops. A series of events lead Kaley and Claire to know about the Interface. They realize they must use their late father’s inter-dimensional portal to find Dr. Feregamo (Ernie Stifel), the man who could complete the Interface and give them a chance to save their mother. Helping them along the way is Peter (Havon Baraka), a man with a dark connection to the sisters, and his loquacious best-friend Mark (Joshua Weyers).
As Claire and Peter travel through multiple dimensions to find Feregamo, they are chased by the ruthless minions of Palmer. Meanwhile, Claire also begins to wonder if she should save Michelle, who abandoned her in childhood, or give her mother a second chance to get to know her side of the story.
Despite its low-budget roots (more on that later!), Interface has a decent enough plot structure. It is not hard to imagine a serviceable PG-13 Hollywood adaptation of the same with better production. Writers Diatta and Norris follow conventional screenplay rules about character arcs, narrative development, and an emotional denouement. If these do not break any new ground, it aids in giving this film a coherent structure and the semblance of a lived-in world.
Further following in the Hollywood footsteps, the film has the reassurance with anodynes like “It is never too late to make amends and move on,” or “Family is always worth it.” The score by Zei zei Diatta helps accentuate this cinematic feel, even though most of its beats feel familiar. The film also offers a sisterly-centric approach to interdimensional travel and science fiction. While a breath of fresh air, it does feel diluted considering two heterosexual men are added (and teased as love interests) to the plot as if the sororal unity cannot overcome challenges on its own. There is also an interesting subtext involving Peter, a black man, and his moral conundrum in submitting himself to the cops. But the film plays it too safe to excuse itself from the racial politics of such an ethical dilemma.
Alas, the underdevelopment of racial and gendered issues is not the only concern of the film. Low-budget science fiction can be challenging to execute, though not impossible, as we see with the brilliant Coherence (2013). Even though Interface struggles to accommodate its grand ideas into its modest budget, the film’s major flaws are ultimately formal and narrative.
Diatta introduces several concepts about interdimensional travel, subconscious communication, and portals to diverse worlds—but the film never cares to explain their abrupt emergence in the narrative. Something as complex and intimidating as a portal to distinct dimensions seems to be a device in one’s basement, and characters can easily retrieve what they are looking for. This fails to give the film the urgency and momentum that a narrative of its kind ultimately seeks.
The film’s muddled editing fails to flow from one scene to another, and the uneven performances lend it an amateurish quality resembling a student thesis project. A few action scenes try to adopt an uncut medium shot scene, but the approach soon gets repetitive when the sequences rely too heavily on hand-to-hand combat and nothing more. Diatta also fails to distinguish his multiverse sequences by merely using a fading color palette to reflect the dimensional changes.
On the narrative front, the screenplay suggests character growth. Still, the hammy execution of these developments only appears as trite and unoriginal, making the film vacillate between an ambitious low-budget project and a made-for-TV Syfy production.
Interface has an intriguing emotional anchor powered by a female-centric approach to the story. However, its modest budget and unpolished screenplay ultimately work against the film’s overall appeal. Maybe Diatta could have done better with a big-budgeted production and a script doctor—turning in an intriguing exploration of the multiverse. Perhaps this, too, could have been possible in another dimensional reality!