Confession time: I’m an agnostic skeptic. A perennial fence sitting, no-side choosing unbeliever. It pertains to science as well as religion. I’m squarely on the side of empirical data. If you can’t show me something that exists, all your anecdotal, mathematical models, and theories of the mechanics of the universe isn’t going to sway me. But I’m conflicted because I LOVE all that stuff. I love quantum physics, I love the supernatural, and I can because I’m no “expert” in either of them- meaning, I can enjoy the concepts and mentally consign them to the sci-fi and horror realms I enjoy without having to invest any “faith”. Einstein’s God Model, a low budget sci fi feature written and directed by Philip T. Johnson, attempts to tell a story combining theoretical physics and the afterlife – how could I not be drawn to it?
This movie, much like the Christopher Walken masterpiece Brainstorm, chronicles the efforts of science to pierce the barrier between our reality, and the afterlife. In both movies, this is attempted using a helmet that connects to the wearer’s brain, although in Brainstorm the machine didn’t attempt to make a direct connection, it possesses what is believed to be the record of a death experience, and the continuing aftermath. In Einstein’s God Model, the helmet is the bridge connecting both “worlds”, with the conceit that the entire device was created by Thomas Edison, and used by Carl Meiselhoff, a scientist who is presumed dead in the present tense of the story. That’s the setup – the story features Brayden, a young man who has recently lost his fiancé, Abbey, in an accident. When he hears about Meiselhoff and his experiments, he tracks down the machine and attempts to use it to contact his fiancé. It’s a solid enough story for this kind of movie, unfortunately, the lack of budget compromises the production from top to bottom.
Running at a slim 88 minutes, with some interesting visual effects towards the end, this movie is a terrific example of a story that’s WAY too big for its budget. In terms of plot, it’s not exactly innovative; the notion that science can be used to pierce the veil of death is seen in Brainstorm, The Lazarus Effect and Flatliners to name but three, nor is the central plot motivation of losing a loved one, but it’s ambitious for a movie that has a tiny budget. To tell a story like this with a tiny fraction of a studio picture, those behind the camera almost need to be savants in the medium, and Philip T. Johnson is no savant. This is not to say that he’s unworthy to make a movie – but he’s not yet a good enough writer or director to pull this off.
I’ve seen some poor indie movies, and they all feature a director’s inability to transcend budget. The result is stock camera angles, wooden acting, circular plotting, and bad pacing, most of which are present here. But this movie does have the luxury of a decent story to tell, even if the production ultimately isn’t up to the task. In terms of acting, Brayden, played by Aaron Graham, is the weakest of the bunch, but the other main cast members share his lack of physical presence and flat delivery – but it’s also a telltale sign that Johnson is a neophyte director that he was unable to draw stronger performances out of his cast. The only one who isn’t stiff as a board is Brad Norman, the student from the prologue, but the problem with this actor is that he chews the scenery badly, and once again, Johnson is unable to reel him in. Nobody really comes out of this movie with any kind of bragging rights – there are three actors in the production who lend some authenticity by means of talent, but they’re in small roles – Kirby O’Connell (Abbey), Darryl Warren (Meiselhoff), and a radio talk show host played by (I think) Darren Stephens. There’s one ridiculously bad piece of casting, though. Brayden is late 20s, early thirties (I’ll go with the latter), but the actor cast as his father can’t possibly be any older than 40 – to hear them refer to each other as father and son is jarring and phony, and I shouldn’t have to be bothered by something as trivial as thins when watching a movie, but it hurt the production for me.
Cast aside, the cinematography has a flat, dull feel – at many times during the movie I was struck by how much the production looked like a daytime soap. It looks boring and unengaging, and one scene in particular – set in a bar – is glaringly poor. In the area of pacing, many scenes are full of exposition, but don’t advance the plot, whereas other scenes advance the plot much too quickly, especially the scene where Brayden effortlessly tracks down the machine that’s been unused since the prologue, AND sets it up as if he’s used it dozens of times. That’s lazy, writing, skipping over the potential to impart important character detail and backstory.
Other than the story, which shows a lot of unexplored potential, and the nice Act 3 visuals effects, I liked the science injected into the plot – it’s unfortunate that it’s mostly delivered in chunks of exposition when nothing of any great visual worth is happening, but I liked it. I remember complimenting Everest for allowing some teaching moments for the audience, and I’ll compliment Johnson too for this. Nobody is going to come away from Einstein’s God Model particularly enlightened about M Theory, superstrings, and quantum membranes, but it might spur someone on to learn more, even by browsing Wikipedia for half an hour. It’s the one thing about the script that makes me think that with a bigger budget, Johnson has a shot of making a neat movie in the near future, so I’ll keep my eye out for his next work.
© Andrew Hope, 2017