Indie cinema is a natural place for simple science fiction, leaving creatives to reach past the frame to create stories that reach through reality. Done well, creators can use simple shots to create worlds like in Coherence, but not every attempt is a titan.
Transference reaches beyond the natural, but doesn’t come back with a collected enough train of thought to deliver a riveting tale. After the loss of their father, Joshua (Jeremy Ninaber) is taxed with caring for his unstable twin sister, Emma (Melissa Joy Boerger). She is powered, and he must protect her from herself, others from her, and her from prying wrongdoers wishing to exploit her. To do so, the now adult Joshua leaves his sister locked up while he fights in an underground league to save the money to care for her. When the man guarding Emma pulls out of the arrangement and Joshua begins being stalked by a masked and potentially powered man, he allows a doctor to visit his sister, who insists he can help her. Unwilling to trust anyone with his sister, from the doctor to his new girlfriend, Joshua finds himself in hot water when people start to pick apart parts of his sister’s cover. Confused? Same.
What’s unfortunate about this mishmash of plot threads is that any one of them could have made for a compelling movie. Films like Chronicle explore the dark side of powered people in a “budget friendly” way, and that’s really where Transference could have landed. It unfortunately throws together a grab bag of threads like demons and priests, masked spooky men, evil doctors, black markets, and underground fight clubs, failing to define the powers in a meaningful enough way to create tension. It’s the grown-up Brightburn that never was.
The film is told out of order and includes dream sequences, which, narratively, can fall on a scale from Memento to Arrested Development Season 4, and this unfortunately lands closer to the latter.
Though it seems a slight to say this movie shows what it could have been, it’s truly a testament of the craft of those involved. Boerger delivers a great performance with what she has, really fitting into the mold of a ticking time bomb woman who is both scared and scary. Jeremy Ninaber shows the physical acting of which he’s capable, believable as an athlete and a hero. Director Matthew Ninaber (who co-wrote the movie with Jennifer Lloyd and Aaron Tomblin) showcases well-used Dutch angles, long shots, and action scenes.
Where the film falls flat is truly in the writing and editing. Scene to scene and shot to shot don’t work or feel natural, and an incoherent mashing of potential stories leaves nothing with meaning, no structure to follow, and no expected ending. In a word, it’s clunky and could have benefited from an overhaul by editors or writers who could have taken what worked to create a more cohesive film. These elements all just add layers to attempt to answer continuity questions that no one asked. Each character is so underdeveloped that it’s impossible to decipher their motivations, making so much feel senseless.
The only consistent thread is the hero complex of the protagonist which, unfortunately, comes with a collection of clichés. He must protect his sister. He must protect her the only way he knows how: fighting other big guys. To prove his heroism, he will save a woman from sexual harassment and assault. Then she will become his girlfriend. It works with an actor like Jeremy Ninaber in the lead, but it, unfortunately, becomes a glaring cliché (read the phrase “one last fight”) when these elements serve no other narrative purpose other than to position Jeremy as a good guy, to then try to question it.
Though difficult to enjoy, Transference isn’t a fatal failure. With some heavy editing and restraint, the work of the creatives on the project could absolutely deliver quality filmmaking. Shedding any sense of glibness, there is promise here, and with a big red pen, this team could make something exciting.
Movie Score: 1.5/5