ZONE 414 (2021), a new science fiction movie which was just released on Netflix, plays out like BLADE RUNNER LITE.
As in oops I spilled half the cream into the coffee-kind-of-lite. Or would you like some coffee with your milk?
Yup. There’s not a lot going on here.
ZONE 414 takes place in the near future where a private detective David Carmichael (Guy Pearce) is hired by the eccentric Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel) to find his missing daughter Melissa in Zone 414, a place also known as the City of Robots. And Veidt knows a lot about this “city” because he’s the guy who created it. He is a reclusive scientist who successfully created exceedingly realistic artificially intelligent beings, and the government decided to give these beings a test run in a special area, a city now known as Zone 414, the only place on Earth where these A. I. beings exist.
It’s an insanely expensive place to visit, so only the very wealthy go there, paying for these artificial beings to satisfy their every fantasy. Veidt’s daughter, unhappy at home, and perhaps jealous that her weirdo scientist daddy spends all his time creating robots, runs away and disappears somewhere in Zone 414. Veidt doesn’t want to involve the police because he wants no negative publicity regarding 414, and so he hires David to get the job done, and he gives the detective a place to start, the name of an A.I. being, Jane (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) who was friends with his daughter.
When David finds Jane, she tells him she doesn’t know where Melissa is. She also tells David that someone out there is trying to kill her, and David decides to help her with her problem so that she will help him find Melissa. Together, David and Jane navigate through the seedy streets of Zone 414, looking for clues to find Melissa and the man who is targeting Jane, and as they do so, they begin to learn more about Zone 414.
Which would be really interesting if there actually was something to learn about! The biggest knock against ZONE 414 is its screenplay by Bryan Edward Hill. The set-up is fine. Hard-boiled detective on the case to find a missing woman in a dark underworld known as 414. This one had me at the outset. But the deeper David gets into this underworld, the only major surprise is how much isn’t there! The deep dark dirty secret behind ZONE 414 isn’t really all that deep dark and dirty.
And what is there— the highly advanced A.I. Jane struggling with her feelings and wanting to be human, for example,— has been done before and done better.
There’s a conversation in this movie between David and Veidt that perfectly sums up the problem with this story. David tells Veidt the results of his investigation, and Veidt goes off on this insane supervillianish rant about how he won’t allow David to use this information to take down Zone 414, to which David just shrugs and tells him he’s not interested in taking down anything. He just wants his money.
I felt the same way. I wasn’t interested in Veidt’s ravings either. Mainly because his creation Zone 414 is a snooze. Who cares? The real interest in this movie is simply David’s search for Melissa. It’s as simple a story as that. The rest isn’t fleshed out at all.
As such, David is the one interesting character in the movie, and he actually has a rather compelling back story involving his terminally ill wife. Guy Pearce is a really good actor, and he is solid here as the hardened former cop turned private detective David. Pearce keeps this movie from being a total snooze fest. Pearce has a ton of credits and has been in all kinds of movies and TV shows, including films like PROMETHEUS (2012), THE KING’S SPEECH (2010), and THE HURT LOCKER (2008), and shows like MARE OF EASTTOWN (2021).
I also enjoyed Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz as Jane, but her role is kind of a cliche at this point, the A.I. who wants to be really alive, and the writing doesn’t add anything new or original to her character.
The rest of the cast is okay. Jonathan Aris plays Joseph Veidt, Marlon’s creepy brother, a character who becomes more involved in the plot as the film goes along, but revelations about the character are simply meh.
Olwen Fouere enjoys a couple of interesting scenes as Jane’s weird handler, Royale, and Ned Dennehy is memorable in one scene as one of the slimy patrons of 414 who tries to bargain with David to buy Jane for a day.
The look of ZONE 414 borrows heavily from BLADE RUNNER (1982) but doesn’t look nearly as comprehensive or mind boggling, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about ZONE 414, that a film made here in 2022 pales in comparison visually to a movie made in 1982!
Director Andrew Baird does a decent job here. I mean, the film looks good, but as I just said, within seconds of watching it, BLADE RUNNER immediately comes to mind, and then as it goes along one realizes that in terms of both visuals and story it is far inferior to the 1982 Ridley Scott movie. Baird also does a good job framing David’s story, which I enjoyed. It’s just that what David uncovers is hardly worth a look, and any deep dark mysteries or secrets waiting to be revealed just aren’t there. It’s a simple crime drama mystery about a missing girl dressed up as a science fiction flick, with some tired A.I. angst thrown in for good measure.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate ZONE 414. Most of the time I was watching it I was enjoying it. Guy Pearce is strong throughout and makes David a very watchable hero, and Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz as Jane is equally as watchable as Pearce. But once David and Jane find their answers, at that point, it’s like a big shrug of the shoulders and a loud, “so what?”
ZONE 414 is a tepid science fiction movie that borrows heavily from BLADE RUNNER while remaining far inferior to its source of inspiration.
It’s worth a visit, but you probably won’t find yourself going back any time soon.