Checkpoint: a polished fantasy exploring the purpose of existence

Jason Sheedy, “Checkpoint” (2021)

Here comes a 10-minute number that initially looks like a virtual reality game being played by several avatars of the same player over and over for some purpose. A prisoner (Brett Brooks) must battle his way out of his confining jail and complete a series of trials in order to claim his love Victoria. Each time he loses a trial, he is killed in the most gory way possible – in one trial he fails, his head explodes; in another, he is decapitated – and he finds himself back behind the gates of his prison. a little wiser after the last death experience. His new avatars pick up coins from the dead bodies of previous avatars.

With each completed trial, the action in the film speeds up, the tension escalates as the prisoner comes closer to his goal, though the coins he collects along the way – perhaps he needs them to pay his way into the dimension where he will claim his reward? – slow him down. Finally after so much effort and a trail of dead avatars in his wake, the prisoner makes his way to meet Victoria (Erin Ownbey), only to discover that she isn’t what he believed her to be, and that his reward is the beginning of another series of ordeals …

“Checkpoint” is a very smartly made film about an unlikely protagonist who, in most other films, would be the antagonist – the prisoner looks shady and villainous enough, and indeed Victoria tells him he was chosen to undergo the trials because he represents one of the seven classic deadly sins of Christian teaching – but in this short film becomes a character the audience roots for. By enduring so many deaths and completing the series of trials, the prisoner does demonstrate admirable qualities of patience, resilience and self-sacrifice. However the prisoner discovers that he is little more than a plaything for higher celestial beings using him and six other representatives of the Deadly Sins to test whether humanity deserves to live or not.

The special effects are very good and help give the film quite a polished and sophisticated look despite its restricted budget. Brooks’s acting is enough to give his prisoner something of a roguish quality while he runs around trying to avoid being shot and splattered all over the ground. The support cast is not given much to do and Ownbey’s character seems very one-dimensional. Very little background context – how did the prisoner agree to get involved in these trials in the first place? – is given in the film.

The film looks like a pilot for a television or movie series in which the prisoner and his fellow human guinea pigs are plunged into various scenarios where they must redeem themselves through upright behaviour and demonstrate that they and other humans deserve a second chance. The sense that these people are pawns of perhaps indifferent, even sadistic cosmic beings who enjoy playing, well, God is strong. Will the prisoner and the other six representatives of the Seven Deadly Sins willingly continue playing out Victoria’s games or will they rebel?