Niccol's techno-thriller Anon fails to capitalize on its gimmick
An interesting gimmick may get viewers into a theater or in front of a TV, but it needs to lead somewhere in order to make the time spent worthwhile.
Netflix’s new film, Anon, uses a concept that feels typical of writer-director Andrew Niccol’s style: everyone has visual technology akin to Google's now-defunct Glass, where information about passersby pops up in people’s fields of vision and the internet is accessible via the eyes.
In this world, Clive Owen plays Sal Frieland, a detective with audacious access to personal information. He is seeking a woman — named “The Girl” — played by Amanda Seyfried, who has hacked into the internet to make herself anonymous.
The ocular internet and all the interactions therein are represented by point-of-view shots in a different aspect ratio, going from widescreen to fullscreen.
The visuals are overlaid by text representing dialog boxes for the characters to interact with, including instructions after the system notices an illegal activity has been carried out.
Frustratingly, Niccol doesn't seem to have any expectation of viewers watching or paying attention. Information delivered via clear words onscreen is repeated via dialogue, with detectives telling each other information that they both already know.
There is little to no added nuance when they recap the obvious; perhaps Niccol expects viewers to watch this on their phone or while distracted, missing details and being spoon-fed information that they could easily see on their own. For all its intended cleverness, Anon is incredibly dumbed down.
The film plays like an extended episode of Netflix’s techno-thriller show, Black Mirror, making the company’s decision to add Anon to its library a curious one. Not only does the movie feel like it fits into the show, the episode “The Entire History of You” already plays with similar concepts to those in Anon, such as the use of memories playing in people’s eyes.
Both even include a moment of characters watching memories of others during intimate moments. From the technology to the overly desaturated cinematography, Anon feels like an unnecessary repetition.
Anon appears to be an updated form of Niccol’s commentary through his script for The Truman Show. Both address feelings of missing privacy due to their modern senses of being watched. This science-fiction-based film uses the reality TV show paradigm, while Anon depicts a perspective of surveillance and wiretapping concerns, mixed with futuristic technology. But, while The Truman Show has a poignancy to it with an emotional journey that viewers can get behind, Anon falls flat in all aspects of pathos imaginable.
Sal develops a slightly teasing, mostly stalking relationship toward Seyfried’s character, whose impersonal treatment, is evident from her official billing as "The Girl" — for purposes of showing the character and actress some respect, she will be referred to here by the actress’ name.
Sal reveals an uncaring persona, trying to seem the harsh detective of a noir story setting. His unexpressive nature would be fine if the film did not keep trying to pretend as if he could be cared for, or any of his relationships for that matter. Seyfried elicits some sympathy, even as she is not given much to work with, but Sal’s obsessive, objectifying pursuit of the former fails completely.
The emotional faltering finds itself expressed in the odd cinematography of the POV shots. There is no clear sense of honesty to the view from characters’ eyes. The camerawork is stiff and impersonal, losing any feeling of humanity that could be expressed. Instead, the view from the eyes feels like it is coming from a camera, and being placed inside a person’s head adds nothing.
Anon fails in its attempt to give over a moral message, as it lacks any convictions about what it is trying to say. The film ends with a revelation-like statement that does not quite say anything significant, as the music hits the drop and implies that something dramatic has just taken place.
But all the film has revealed is that Seyfried wants her life to remain private. In its message that surveillance is bad, Anon offers nothing nuanced or innovative from its stiff perspective.
With on-the-nose dialogue and an ineffective story, Anon has little of value to offer, its powerful sequences of literal mind-hacking and close-eyed movements are strong parts surrounded by a purposeless whole.
The film is a waste of time, yet another in Netflix’s slew of mediocre movies, like high-budget TV movies that are not missed for staying off the big screen. Its twist, not based off any meaningful story, has no resonance. Its message is nonexistent.
Even with a somewhat interesting gimmick to start, Anon goes nowhere special, making one wish that it had stayed as hidden as the anonymous and mistreated Seyfried.