Coma, a Russian science fiction thriller, bets big on some impressive visual effects while telling an enjoyable mish-mash of Inception and The Matrix that weaves in more than a few clever ideas of its own. By no means a masterpiece, it is still a worthy contribution to the genre that appears to have flown under the radar.
A man (Rinal Mukhametov) wakes in his apartment, only to find the world outside is a nightmarish maze of floating city blocks, web-like mesh where people and buildings used to be, and frightening oil slick demons marauding the streets. Rescued by a group of desperate survivors, the anonymous and amnesiac man learns he is trapped in the world of “Coma”, and cannot escape unless he wakes in the real world.
Writer/director Nikita Argunov has developed an impressive slice of direct-to-online cinema with Coma. Its first half is dominated by some astonishing visual ideas and inventive action sequences, and its second by some intriguing ideas and revelations. It is hardly coy about its influences; it’s broken-up cityscapes draw heavily on Christopher Nolan’s similarly dream-like vistas in Inception, while its cast of elaborately dressed rebels trapped in a simulation world is clearly inspired by the Wachowskis’ The Matrix. There are other potential, less obvious candidates for inspiration too, such as the Pangs’ Re-Cycle (2006), but all in all Coma feels like contemporary pulp cinema done right: the influences aren’t hidden, the film gives back as much to the culture as it takes, and the money is clearly front-and-centre on the screen. Its execution may lag a little behind its ambitions, but those ambitions are honest and emphatic enough to forgive any number of minor sins.
It is in the visuals that the film most excels. The city landscape of Coma consists of floating islands of half-ruined buildings, representing both generic and iconic landmarks of numerous cities. Gravity runs in conflicting directions. Illogical portals exist from one to another. Not only is this unusual world presented with a consistently high visual quality, it inspires some truly inventive sequences including a stunning shoot-out scene that takes the famous rolling corridor fight of Inception and expands it to a greater scale.
Mukhametov plays a straight-forward lead, and his supporting cast – including Lyubov Aksyonova, Anton Pampushnyy, and Milos Bikovic – provide solid back-up. It is not really an actor’s movie, however, with a much stronger emphasis (and directorial interest) on the visuals and the ideas. Viewers seeking an interesting and varied slice of eye candy will be most likely to embrace Coma on its reasonably solid merits. One drawback that may deter some: its Australian release at least (via indie distributor Eagle) provides an English dub only. To be fair it is a perfectly decent dub, but those craving the original Russian audio will be sadly disappointed.
The merits of Coma absolutely outweigh its drawbacks. While by no means a classic, it is an interesting and entertaining diversion for science fiction viewers looking for something new.