Empathy Inc. is a surreal and stylistic cautionary tale that blends mind-bending sci-fi with psychological horror. When Joel (Zack Robidas) unwittingly becomes embroiled in a work scandal, he and his aspiring actress wife Jessica (Kathy Searle) flee to her parents’ home to embark on a fresh start. Desperate to get the couple back up on their financial feet, Joel reacquaints himself with an old friend, Nicolaus (Eric Berryman) who has a dark yet lucrative business proposition for him.
Have you ever thought you could be anyone you ever wanted to be? Well, Nicolaus and his henchman, Lester (Jay Klaitz) have developed a one of a kind virtual reality system that allows the host to experience what it is like to literally be in someone else’s shoes. Of course, this revolutionary piece of technology doesn’t come without a price, as Joel is about to discover. Containing plenty of nail-biting twists and turns combined with technological anxieties, Empathy Inc. is a meticulous slow burn based on the traditional, “be careful what you wish for” narrative.
Featuring an intriguing concept, Empathy Inc. is certainly niche when it comes to the horror and thriller genres. It contains familiar elements of suspense techniques; however, its story is told in a more obscure way, meaning it might not hit the mark as far as the mainstream is concerned. Empathy Inc. embodies an arthouse style, its shot in black and white for its entirety which brings in a surreal focus. The film cross breeds, domestic drama of mundane everyday life problems and combines them with the extraordinary and the impossible with Joel entering a murky world, rapidly becoming in over his head.
At times, the pacing is slow and methodical, which can be off-putting as it deliberately takes its time to get to where it needs to be. However, when processing the film as a complete piece, it is clever in how it drip feeds clues throughout, hinting at the emotionally shattering ending.
The over-arching concept is a fascinating one and is explored in-depth from both sides of the coin. Initially after gaining empathy from being someone else, Joel feels better about his own life. But, when events take a shocking turn, Joel must re-evaluate what he has become involved in, or will it be too late? The stakes are raised, and the suspense is heighted, making for a compelling plotline and overall trajectory.
Zack Robidas portrays Joel has an ambitious businessman whose ideas of happiness comes down to money and what he can provide for his wife, materialistically. As he goes on a journey of self-discovery, realising his whole being is at stake, he reaches a turning point with enduring consequences. Eric Berryman is the ruthless villain, who seductively lures the vulnerable in with his extravagant promises, only to uncompassionately rip their hopes away. Kathy Searle plays Joel’s long-suffering wife as the voice of reason. Contrasting to Joel, she maintains the ethos that hard work is the key to succeeding and achieving personal goals and dreams. While, Jay Klaitz is the loose cannon, resorting to violence to protect his and Nicolaus unethical project. Each of the core cast deliver solid and multi-layered performances that drives the narrative forward.
A thought-provoking feature from, director, Yedidya Gorsetman, Empathy Inc. is fine, experimental filmmaking with an essence of individuality surrounding it. As previously stated, it is undeniably niche but worth checking out if you’re looking for something different from the genre.
Darkstar Pictures in association with Rigel Films, presents Empathy Inc. Available now on Blu-ray, courtesy of Arrow Films: https://arrowfilms.com/product-detail/empathy-inc-blu-ray/FCD2024