United States. Directed by Dan Bush, 2014. Starring Conal Byrne, Amy Siemetz, Melissa McBride, Adam Fristoe, AJ Bowen, Scott Poythress, Tim Habeger, Lake Roberts. 98 minutes.

The concept of identity and what exactly makes an individual that specific individual has long been a popular concept in science fiction; with The Reconstruction of William Zero, Dan Bush, co-director of The Signal (not the one from last year), becomes the latest filmmaker to take the idea on. Conal Byrne (who co-wrote with Bush) stars as the titular William, a geneticist who emerges from a coma with only the sketchiest of memories. His twin brother helps him gradually relearn who he is…

…only to find out he’s not who he thinks he is–or more accurately, who he’s being taught to believe he is. He’s actually a “proxy,” or clone, of his “brother,” the real William Blakeley. The reasons for his creation are…complicated, but suffice it to say, the tragic death of William’s young son in an auto accident and the subsequent dissolution of his marriage to Jules (Amy Siemetz) form the basis of the original’s motivation.

As intriguing as the questions Reconstruction poses are–not just “what makes ourselves ourselves” but also “can we train someone else who’s not us to become us” and other philosophical meanderings–I had a hard time grasping exactly why some of the characters did what they did. Creating a clone of oneself and then teaching that clone to replace one doesn’t strike me as the most obviously intuitive thing for a brilliant scientist with a dead son and the secret of cloning to do. That doesn’t make it a plot hole, not exactly, but it seems a weird thing to do in a fantastical situation even without murky motivations on William’s part.

Nor does the story make the best of Next Corporation, the Williams’ mysterious employer. The boss may be full of cryptic pronouncements such as “this isn’t the sort of job you just quit,” but even a pool of shadowy, vaguely threatening operatives (including one played by AJ Bowen) can’t give Next a sinister or threatening, conspiratorial vibe. Sometimes a little ambiguity goes a long way, but in this case there’s just not enough meat on the bone.

On the plus side, Byrne practically radiates a sort of open blankness perfect for William; you can readily accept him as an empty vessel, looking for something–anything–of meaning to fill himself with (and his performances take on a new dimension once the third-act twist is revealed). Siemetz and Bowen always show up in movies like this; Siemetz in particular has an easy confidence in her role, it’s something she could do in her sleep. Bush keeps the suspense building up (despite a few awkward expository scenes, especially towards the end) and has a good eye. It’s all topped off with an analog-drenched synth score–nowhere near the same league as The Guest and It Follows, but better than the thousand others I’ve heard this year.

While The Reconstruction of William Zero doesn’t quite gel as solidly as it could have, it’s still worth watching: thoughtful and provocative, proof that science fiction doesn’t need big effects to work on screen.

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF WILLIAM ZERO poster

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