This wavering sci-fi thriller has big ideas, plucking story threads from current political an health crises, but ham-handedly tries to weave them together into a coherent whole.
For the record, I’m a big fan of low-budget films. Most everybody who’s lucky enough to make high-dollar movies started out with little to no money for the productions. It forces them to get creative and build a world onscreen that seems huge, even if we’re only seeing small slices of it.
Sometimes, though, a film’s lack of production values hampers the vision of the filmmaker to the point it undermines the whole effort. “Altered Perceptions” is a science fiction thriller with big ambitions, picking story threads from our times — COVID, political strife, racism — and tries ham-handedly to weave them together into a coherent whole.
It doesn’t work, resulting in a movie that’s both confusing and boring.
The main gist of the narrative courtesy of director Jorge Ameer and screenwriter Wayne C. Dees is that a mysterious epidemic is rolling across the world in a slow wave. It leaves people disoriented and questioning their reality. Usually the end point is reached when they become violent, killing others and/or themselves.
A veteran TV journalist does his last broadcast on the train tracks just so everyone can watch him get pulverized. And old man asks directions from a stranger on the street, starts rambling about God and Jesus, and then something truly horrifying happens. It goes on from there.
Oran Stainbrook plays Alex, the narrator and more or less the main character, though he curiously disappears for much of the middle of film. The eager youngster works for a mouthy, fascism-adjacent Texas Senator, Ted DeMarcos (Danny Fehsenfeld), who tries to tie those coming down with the illness as being limited to those who received the COVID vaccine, to bring in a little more real-world paranoia.
DeMarcos and his ilk sees the epidemic as an excuse to do a little ol’ ethnic cleansing, ranting about gathering up the Blacks and the gays for special “treatment” facilities.
This is problematic in that Alex’s own father is gay, a celebrated neurologist, Dr. Joseph Feretti (Matt Fling), who’s celebrating his 10-year anniversary with his husband, Peter (Vincent Giovanni). The good doctor is at the forefront of the fight against unfolding disease, insisting it has nothing to do with the senator’s fearmongering ways.
Dr. Feretti also hates that people refer to the victims as “sickos,” preferring the slightly more medically accurate “atrophies,” since their brains show signs of hasty decay.
Things really get weird when Alex is visited by a man blipping in and out of the air. Sometimes he’s just a human-shipped nimbus of light, other time he’s fully fleshed out as a buff, bearded dude warning that he’s from the future and DeMarcos must be stopped if the apocalypse is to be avoided.
And I do mean fully fleshed: the visitors is completely naked, and the film is replete with full-frontal nudity from him and several other characters, all male. This, along with a couple of why-is-this-here love scenes, suggest their inclusion is purely for prurient reasons.
A couple of name actors, Eric Roberts and Sally Kirkland, show up for paycheck cameos. Roberts plays a man who wakes up in the hospital after brain surgery for the illness, and angrily denies that his wife is his spouse because “I wouldn’t have married an old hag.” Kirkland is on the flip side, married to a much younger man who’s also afflicted and has a, uh… heady encounter with a prostitute.
The film’s look is very cheap and borderline unprofessional, with garish lighting and choppy editing. Director Ameer layers in a lot of psychedelic imagery and what looks like stock news footage to pad out the scenes of global unrest. The idea, I think, is to make the audience feel untethered from reality so the movie’s shaky metaphysics will seem more plausible.
“Altered Perceptions” is one of those efforts that’s a better idea for a movie than the one they actually made.