Director Mark Schwab’s “S.E.R.P.” is thought provoking science fiction, but along the lines of “Primer.” Its considerable low budget confines it to one room where it’s very similar to a stage play, but opts to tell a very interesting story about the evolution of technology and the concept of consciousness and morality. While it’s by no means a perfect indie film, it has aspirations to do more than show off flashy effects and action. It’s based more around how scary cognizant technology is, and how it can be the undoing of pure evil in humanity.
Robert Sean Campbell plays Webster, a young web designer who awakens in a cell to find out he’s been abducted by US government agents. He’s created the very advanced search engine Alexandria, and they’re very disturbed by its programming. After showing him its SERP (Search Engine Results Page), they’ve found that their surveillance showed someone asked the engine if the US Government was evil. Alexandria answered a definitive Yes. How and why is not important, they’re just very intent on convincing Webster to alter or destroy Alexandria, before the engine and its users begin to stir the pot, and create dissension within the US and begin what promises to be a revolt against the government. I really admired what “S.E.R.P.” set out to accomplish, because while the single setting heavy dialogue based film may test the patience of some audiences, Schwab appeals to the more intellectual science fiction fans out there.
I was reminded quite often of Richard Linklater with “S.E.R.P.” and how Schwab places the weight of the film on the actors and their performances. The film is really just a cast of four trading very sharp dialogue and emphasizing a minor situation that promises to have great repercussions in the future. There’s a stark atmosphere within the confines of the film, as Schwab films in black and white, and in a blank somewhat inconspicuous room. Whether it’s intentional or something based on budget limitations, it compliments the somewhat nightmarish surrealism of the narrative. Though the dark comedy is somewhat misguided at times (the agents don’t know about computers why?), and the characters are undeveloped, I enjoyed the performances. Particularly from Jake Vincent, whose character begins as a vicious enforcer and begins forming his own ideas.
“S.E.R.P.” plays upon relevant themes about the US government and how it’s become almost fanatical in efforts to snuff out negative or subversive ideas about itself in the name of “protection” and “safety.” That said, what ultimately brought down “S.E.R.P.” from being an immersive experience is the sound quality. For a movie filmed in one room, the actors are almost impossible to hear at times. There are echoes throughout the entire film, and that’s a very major problem for a movie based around important dialogue. I had to constantly lower and raise the volume to my television to pick up most of what was said. Though it sounds like a minor nitpick, trust me, it almost ruins the experience and distracts from a very interesting concept. In either case, while imperfect, “S.E.R.P.” is a solid indie with a lot of overtones about the social powder keg in America, and how technology may soon evolve in to a being with its own views and power to change the world and battle corruption.