A neurological research scientist along with his able team set out to perform a bold experiment that would open new doors in scientific and technological advances. They intend to connect with the mind of a human subject, a comatose patient and try and gain access to the person's thoughts in the unconscious state. Why necessarily a comatose person? Since his/her brain activity is minimal and that would reduce the burden on the data processing, for the experiment is in a rudimentary stage.
A very familiar sounding premise, one would say, that immediately brings to mind Christopher Nolan's blockbuster, "Inception" (2010) and Tarsem Singh's Jennifer Lopez starrer, "The Cell" (2000), but any doubts about sameness and plagiarism are laid to rest as the plot thickens and enters darker territories that explore the moral debasement of protagonists with shades of grey, in this fascinating new film from Lithuanian filmmaker, Kristina Buozyte. She, along with Bruno Samper tap the basest of human instincts and take us to the innermost recesses of the psyche.
Scientist Lukas (Marius Jampolskis) volunteers to connect to the mind of a subject whose identity is unknown to him. The connection happens through some neural networks, the technological aspects of which, are of course, supposed to be taken at face value! With several wires connected to Lukas' bald head, he descends into a black monolith-like tank where he feels some sonic waves and witnesses random patterns. But before he knows it, he finds himself swimming in a vast sea in another world - the mind of the subject! But what are these things he sees? Are they the subject's thoughts? Dreams? Memories? Or a mix of everything?
In that outlandish universe, Lukas encounters a beautiful girl, Aurora (Jurga Jutaite) with whom he develops an instant sensory connection that leads to a wild, sexual liaison! Back to the real world, Lukas knows deep within that the experiment is a grand success. He indeed did experience something extremely tangible and tempting, almost sinful! A hunger for more makes him withhold his observations from his colleagues and things take a turn for the worse as Lukas makes new discoveries in his psychic odyssey.
Bruno Samper, credited as the writer and visual effects creative supervisor, and director Kristina Buozyte do take inspiration from older sources, but manage to create a fascinating as well as eerie dreamscape that genuinely feels like the product of a messed up, lonely mind, rather than a fantastical utopia. A vast open sea and not a soul around other than this couple can't help but remind of Andrei Tarkovsky's "Solaris" (1972). There's a large house made of what looks like shredded paper; somewhat like a playhouse. The house tilts and rolls around like an amusement park ride as the couple indulge in a playful naked romp amid an operatic score, a strange kind of joy visible of their visages! At times there, the sun across the dark sea looks extra crimson and expands and contracts, as if it has a life of its own!
There is a lot to cheer for lovers of trippy visuals. The depiction of the inner world offers a variety of maddening images, many of which are sexually charged, including one shocking scene in which the bodies of several people involved in an orgy, literally fuse together in a Cronenberg-esque body horror moment! The colors change like a vivid kaleidoscope, with some moody scenes depicted with a red hue, and other cheerful moments in bright white. Food items look odd and grotesque with their dirty colors and ugly texture, and a happy dining dream moment turns into a bizarre nightmare. Images blur and sometimes characters find themselves in isolated theaters…!
Where Buozyte's film scores as compared to some earlier films dealing with a similar concept is in how the events are a result of twisted character motivations triggered by seduction. Buozyte accurately captures basic human instincts, desires and normal mental characteristics. The lead character Lukas is in a cold marital relationship, and that becomes clear at the outset. However, it is only natural that he has a reservation in sharing the lurid, erotic adventures with the mystery girl. It would put a stop to the experiments for ethical reasons, and hence deprive him of more chances at indulging in the torrid and tantalizing affair in the mind! An addiction that develops owing to sexual impulses hinders reason and sound judgement as Lukas chooses to lie to his fellow scientists. The mission of the experiment takes a backseat as he uses his gateway into the dream world for his own vested interests of lust.
Lukas tastes blood with this girl in the dream and the moment he is asked to take a break for a few days from the experiment, all hell breaks loose and he exhibits some disturbing withdrawal symptoms! That's some genuinely clever writing that showcases the animalistic traits exhibited by Lukas and makes his character all the more real. Tender moments of romance sometimes take an obsessive turn and we are treated to a Gaspar Noe-esque ultraviolent moment!
The proceedings are quite arresting, thanks to the fabulous visuals, a sublime, electric score, and taut writing that offers some extraordinary, imaginative surreal sequences that leave the viewer wanting more, and waiting with bated breath, each time Lukas enters the black tank to disappear into the subject's mind. While some performances are flat, and Marius Jampolskis is a tad inconsistent, it is Jurga Jutaite that stands out with her diverse act. This is the performance to watch out for in this film. The final act leaves the viewer with some questions with visual clues thrown about. Thankfully the director chooses not to spoon-feed the audience as she takes the film to its bittersweet culmination.
Make sure you add "Vanishing Waves" to your watch list. It is the devil's temptation that begs for your indulgence and promises not to leave your mind for a while.