Ben Feldman, “Psychosis” (2019)
The shorter of two films based on the short story of the same name by Matt Dymerski posted to the short horror fiction website Creepypasta, this is a darkly paranoiac minimalist work. When we first meet John (Jack Alberts), an IT programmer, he has already been living on his own in a basement room with his eyes almost permanently glued to the screens of his various IT devices, never venturing outside except perhaps to get another bottle of water from the vending machine or going on increasingly rare dates with girlfriend Amy (Alexandra Ivey). One day John receives a mysterious email message and he becomes convinced that he is being spied upon by a sinister technological entity that threatens to take over his mind. With each passing day, diligently observed by the film, John retreats further into his mind and physical space despite Amy’s best efforts to get him out of his room. John is soon convinced that Amy is a robot just like every other human being trying to contact him. Soon he is convinced that even his body parts – in particular his eyes – are being replaced by cyber-mechanical parts and he attempts to erase these, starting with his eyes.
With its emphasis on close-ups of the main actor’s face, short and fast editing, and abrupt cuts, the cinematography effectively conveys the hysteria of John’s world as it closes in on him. The dark atmosphere in John’s room, its chaotic mess and the various computer hardware of differing ages placed here and there mirror the state of John’s mind. The voice-over narration, performed by the actor himself, gives viewers an insight into John’s paranoia and heightened vigilance against the invisible forces plaguing him.
The climax when it comes is rather sudden, once John begins to doubt the nature of his reality and becomes convinced that his eyes are not only playing tricks on him but are part of his intended downfall by the alien enemy. After his self-mutilation, the next time we see him he is in an institution for the mentally ill, trussed up in a straitjacket and a padded cell and indulged by the hospital staff. A twist in the plot quickly comes soon after and at that point the film ends.
The notion of cyber-technology acquiring its own evil life-force and actively preying on individuals by sending them emails and deciding what they can and cannot see or hear is becoming increasingly and painfully relevant in a world of ever-encroaching cyber-surveillance and AI databases and bots that follow and predict human behaviour and actions, and use the information collected to influence and mould future decision-making. Through such technology, a police state acting on behalf of unseen elites can track individuals through the trails they leave in cyberspace, predict what these individuals will do next and use the information gathered to guide and control the individuals’ thinking and actions. In such a world, where impersonal and deceptively rational and orderly algorithms and rules govern humans as though they were black-box machines responding to stimuli, the only sane thing to do is … to become mad.