"Online Dating Can Be Murder: A Review of Indie-Horror film, Other Halves"

 

Indie-horror movies seem to be not only growing in number, but also rising with respect to their all-around quality. With so many cookie-cutter horror movies being released in theaters throughout the year (not to mention the multiple sequels that are sure to follow), it’s always refreshing to see low-budget, indie films from the horror genre that attempt to accomplish something different. This seems to be exactly what writer/director Matthew T. Price and writer/producer Kelly Morr sought out to do with their 2015 debut feature film, Other Halves. Part sci-fi thriller, part dark comedy, Other Halves is a satirical and gruesome look into the dangers of technology, urging us to reexamine how much of our lives we share on the internet.

 Devon (Lauren Lakis) talks shop with fellow programmers Shawn (Sam Schweikert), Beth (Megan Hui), and Jana (Melanie Friedrich).

Devon (Lauren Lakis) talks shop with fellow programmers Shawn (Sam Schweikert), Beth (Megan Hui), and Jana (Melanie Friedrich).

Taking place almost entirely in a San Francisco office over the course of one night, Other Halves centers around a team of programmers, working diligently to prepare their revolutionary new dating app, "Other Halves", for its next-day release. This app sets itself apart from all other dating apps on the market by pairing people together based on an analysis of their entire internet history. As the night goes on, the programmers (who we learn are also long-time friends) discover a bug in the app’s code which, upon loading, causes the user’s full internet history to be displayed in rapid succession, on the screen of their device. The result of this odd glitch is, instead of finding the user’s “other half” in another individual, the app brings out a side of the user that is both depraved and murderous. One-by-one, the programmers begin to fall prey to the power of Other Halves.

 Shawn and Beth gettin' their code on.

Shawn and Beth gettin' their code on.

I was particularly impressed with the casting in this movie. The group of programmers, who essentially make up the entire cast, are almost all female! The lone male of the group, Shawn (Sam Schweikert), seems to serve as little more than the hopeful love interest to Beth (Megan Hui) - which, I must say, is a refreshing reversal of what I have come to expect from movies; especially those set in the world of IT. Newsflash: ladies love technology, too! While I feel the cast, as a whole, delivers solid performances, Lauren Lakis’ portrayal of programmer Devon is arguably the strongest of the bunch. She brings a level of personality and realism to a character who might have easily fallen victim to the film’s often underwhelming and unnatural-feeling dialogue. There are more than a few moments where the progression of the film’s fragmented narrative tends to get lost by the characters’ delivery of technical exposition and overuse of quips.

 Devon heads towards the "dioramas of death."

Devon heads towards the "dioramas of death."

The movie also contains a surprising amount of nudity. While I’m no stranger to nudity in horror movies (topless ladies are a common and familiar trope), the nudity in Other Halves feels misplaced and baseless - though I do appreciate the inclusion of both male and female nudity. Despite its few shortcomings, Other Halves has quite a bit going for it. The film offers up some rather impressive and visually striking shots. One of the most exciting and unforgettable scenes is when Devon walks through what Price refers to as the “dioramas of death.” Everything from the lighting, to the editing, to the sound design works to create a thrillingly disturbing series of shots. Almost every frame feels like something that could easily have been plucked from any number of classic horror slashers.

Despite my initial confusion with why the programmers are working at night, with such low lighting in their office, the use of low lighting is successful in creating an atmosphere that can be either comfortable or suspenseful. It helps to create a sense of unease for the viewer. Price also utilizes neat digital tricks, which he and co-writer Morr refer to as “codebrain”, to give scenes a trippy, sci-fi feel, while illustrating to the viewer that a particular character is losing their grip on reality. He also employs the use of text message bubbles to show conversations taking place between characters. I personally love the use of on-screen text bubbles in movies and think their employment in the film was one of the smartest decisions made. They provide such a clever and visually interesting way to conveniently show character interaction while, at the same time, moving the plot forward.

Outside of the more technical aspects of the film, the underlying story is perhaps not as polished and clear as would be ideal. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of technology causing seriously negative psychological effects on the human brain is one that I’m particularly fond of. However, what Other Halves has in the way of an uncommon and compelling idea, it lacks a bit in clarity and execution. I was slightly disappointed not to get any kind of scientific explanation of what was taking place between the technology and the characters’ brains. While I don't feel as if this lack of exposition significantly took away from the narrative, as a whole, I do feel it would have benefited the film to spend a small amount of time providing some of the explanatory science behind this unusual anomaly.

 An example of "codebrain" in a scene with Devon and Jasmine (Mercedes Manning)

An example of "codebrain" in a scene with Devon and Jasmine (Mercedes Manning)

On that same note, by leaving the explanation ambiguous, it allows the viewer to create their own interpretation. For example, the idea that the app causes the characters to essentially lose all conscience and inhibition made me think of Gaspar Noe’s intensely disturbing 2002 film, Irreversible, and how he employed the concept of infrasound, also known as “the fear frequency”, in the film’s opening scene. In the first 30 minutes of Irreversible, the viewer is subject to a nearly inaudible background noise, with a low frequency of 28 hz (sound waves with frequencies at 20 hz or below are considered to be infrasound and are below the lower limit of human audibility). This was intentionally done to cause the viewer to experience feelings of nausea, dizziness, and vertigo. I felt like the physical effect this film’s titular app had on its users played with that same idea. It’s an interesting theory that, despite being infrequently explored, I feel lends itself really well to the horror genre.

Other Halves is a refreshing break from the seemingly endless barrage of sequels and prequels Hollywood keeps shoving down our throats (I’m talking to you, Ouija 2!). It uses technology and social media, things very near and dear to all of our hearts, and creates something evil that should be feared. Skillfully shot and admirably acted, Other Halves takes its viewers on an original and gruesome ride as it illustrates why people should be wary of how much trust they place in technology. Despite shortcomings with the dialogue and story, Other Halves is an imaginative and entertaining debut feature that is well-worth the watch for any serious fan of the horror genre.

  • Jamie

One of The Bloodlust's OGs, Jamie has heard, "I can't believe you can watch that stuff" for most of her life. Though willing to give any movie a try, those involving time travel, home invasions, or cults tend to be her favs. She's also not ashamed to admit she loves found footage.

@jamiestamp