It’s always nice to getaway… until you can’t get away.
Now available on VOD/Digital, Blank tells the story of Claire (Rachel Shelley), a desperate writer who rents an A.I. operated getaway for some alone time as she finishes her book. Welcomed by her digital host Henry (Wayne Brady), Claire is to be cared for by Rita (Heida Reed), her robotic assistant who has been programmed to meet her every need. Although, after some unexpected malware infiltrates their programming, Rita and Henry put the entire site on lockdown, preventing Rita from leaving until she ‘finishes her book’. As the situation deteriorates and time drags on, Claire becomes increasingly willing to do anything possible to break free from her forced confinement.
Directed by Natalie Kennedy, Blank is an interesting but ultimately misguided exploration of the toll that isolation takes on the soul. Using the style recently re-popularized by shows like Black Mirror, Blank is meant to be a psychological exploration of our over-reliance on technology. What’s more, with an intriguing premise and some good character work, there’s a lot to like about the film, even if it suffers from glitches with its hardware.
As Claire’s android hostess Rita, Reed walks a line between terror and comfort. With a dead-eyed stare, there is a soullessness about her character that leaves the viewer unsure of her next action or motivation. At the same time, Wayne Brady provides a calming presence as Henry, the home’s digital host. While his comedic timing is left off grid here, Brady has a natural charisma that makes Henry feel safe, even if there’s no way to guarantee such a thing.
Nevertheless, if there’s a fault to the film, it (somewhat ironically) lies with the writing. Although the film clocks in at under two hours, Blank simply doesn’t have enough meat to the script justify its runtime. Repetitive dialogue and scene development is meant to feel terrifying and endless yet comes across as frustrating to the viewer. (Frankly, there are only so many times that one can hear Rita tell Claire that she looks distress and offer her the chance to lie down.) In fact, in many ways, the film would’ve worked far more effectively as an episode of Mirror, which usually clocks in between 45 minutes to an hour.
Now, having said this, Blank is clearly using this style of writing intentionally. Although the film appears to be an examination of our reliance on technology, it’s actually an exploration of pandemic life. Trapped inside this delicate ‘retreat’, Claire had initially prepared herself for some time away from others. As days bleed into months, her place of rest becomes a prison. Each day seems exactly like the previous ten, with no particular end in sight. In this way, the repetitive nature of its writing achieves its goal by highlighting the mental health struggles that have been caused by the global pandemic.
Interestingly, unlike other ‘pandemic films’ that we’ve seen in recent months, Blank isn’t a story about people looking for connections or relationships. (Quite happy in her solitude, Claire seems to have no such reliance on others.) Instead, it’s a film about freedom. Just like the writer’s block that plagues here, Claire is a woman who is desperately looking for freedom of choice. To her, the highest value is to make her own decisions in the face of oppression and terror, both from her digital prison and her past. In Blank, hope lies in the ability to choose for yourself how you will live, despite the circumstances.
And it’s always out of reach.
It’s conversations about issues such as this that make Blank an intriguing project. What does freedom look like a world of lockdowns? How do we cope when those choices are taken from us? Unfortunately, when it comes to answers about these sorts of things, the film draws a Blank. Instead, we’re left with an endless cycle of repetitiveness onscreen that leaves us distressed. Even if that is the point of the film, unfortunately it just made me want to lie down.
Blank is available on VOD/Digital on Friday, September 22nd, 2022.