X-Men: Apocalypse is coming out soon and the reviews are already pouring in. I was one of the lucky critics to see it on Monday, so keep your eyes peeled for my review on CLTure. In the meantime, it looks like one of Apocalypse’s stars, Olivia Munn, decided to keep herself busy between projects and worked on a short film called Lifeline, directed by Armando Bo, the writer of Birdman or [The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance]. That movie was beautifully shot, expertly acted, and told one of the most compelling stories of mental illness that I’ve seen. (For my full thoughts on Birdman, go here.) When I learned that the writer of Birdman had done another piece featuring Munn, an actress capable with comedy, drama, as well as physical work, I knew I needed to check it out. Clocking in at just over thirty-minutes, Lifeline is a mystery-thriller that asks the question we’d rather not think about: if all you had was your lover’s phone, could you handle the truth you find?
Taking place across two days in Shanghai, Kai (Leehom Wang) wakes up on his houseboat to discover that his girlfriend Emma (Munn) and all of her things are gone, save her phone. Concerned for her safety, Kai uses her phone to pull together whatever clues he can uncover in order to find her. The further he looks into her disappearance, the deeper into a mystery he finds himself on the run from threats unknown.
Lifeline is not director Bo’s first time in the director’s set, but from the looks of this film, I hope it’s not his last. Bo expertly crafts shots to control what he wants us to focus on, but enables the audience to feel as Kai does by toying with various angles and light arrays. By restricting our field of vision, we begin to feel as Kai does as his intensity increases throughout the length of the short. This is but one of many clever cinematography choices that Bo makes to illustrate the internal confusion and frustration that Kai feels during his search for Emma. For example, frequently Kai sees Emma, but only as construct of his imagination – either giving him clues or spurring him on – inciting motivation when his hope seems lost. Doing this helps maintain the momentum required to hold the tension of the story, which must constantly increase at an accelerated pace compared to a feature length film. Seeing Emma as a figment also toys with the concept of she is – the person Kai has spent time with or the person she kept hidden? In this regard, the audience can’t help but wonder about the reliability of our narrator as the information he gathers constantly disintegrates what he believed as truth only moments before.
It’s worth noting that Lifeline is presented by Qualcomm, a wireless and mobile tech company whose phone Snapdragon is the tool through which Kai searches for Emma. Featured like product placement in any television show or feature film – as much as is reasonable without being intrusive – Lifeline shows off various Snapdragon features in security, video clarity, battery life, and security as they are all worked into the narrative. Thankfully, if you weren’t aware that what you’re watching is a glorified commercial, Emma’s phone would just be a tool for the narrative to anchor upon. Luckily, by surrounding itself with an Academy Award-winning director (Bo) and three fantastic leads, Munn, Wang, and Joan Chen as Kai’s mother, the commercial aspect falls away behind an intriguing mystery-thriller.
Knowing that director Bo also wrote Birdman should set up the audience to have their minds messed with, so be aware going in that things aren’t always as they appear. Truthfully, as intriguing as Lifeline is, I’m not entirely sure I understand what is meant by the conclusion. While a lack of definition can create an opportunity for individual interpretation, the denouement detracts from the success of the film up to that point. Without spoiling anything directly, I can only say that the conclusion is the weakest portion in an otherwise clearly written, well-acted, and sharply edited short film. For a movie presented by a telecommunications company as a means of selling cellphones, it went above and beyond my expectations.
Available now for streaming via Lifeline film page.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5