In Altered Perceptions, three couples have a drug that is repeatedly compared to hallucinogens injected into a gland behind their eyes. The drug’s stated purpose is to give clarity, and according to one of the people administering it, it has the potential to resolve, “geopolitical conflicts around the world.” The couples—two straight, one lesbian—are on the rocks. For them, the drug is an opportunity to save their relationships.
The whole film is framed by a panel questioning the experimenters. Within two minutes, Walter (Mark Burnham), shouts, “Someone was murdered. Where does your unacceptable range begin?” From there the panel screens footage of the drug trial, with Walter interjecting as the film’s angry conscience. The test subjects have cameras set up in their homes and are required to post daily video diaries as well. Director Kate Rees Davies thankfully takes some liberty with her cameras. The scenes may all begin on a fixed camera, but once they start Davies lets the cameras go to. It’s a good balance, reminding viewers of the found footage genre but giving herself the freedom to frame shots and to move with the characters.
The movie continues with the couples fighting. They all have different, deep-seated issues. Andrew and Lorrie are crippled by Andrew’s insecurities about Lorrie’s past as a prostitute. Emily and Beth fight about whether Emily’s brother Josh raped Beth or if Beth’s encounter with him was consensual. Steve is gaslighting Christina, telling her that she needs to trust him and getting her to internalize the blame for suspecting him of having an affair. Things get worse for all of the couples, but they certainly don’t feel like they’ve been given a psychotropic drug to help them see their relationships more clearly. The deterioration feels like it’s moving at a normal, albeit Hollywood, rate.
The writing and the acting are passable, not great. Altered Perceptions could’ve done a better job with its portrayal of the aftermath of sexual assault and with its portrayal of sex workers, but there’s nothing glaringly bad about the way it works with heavy topics.
The film puts its clout behind the unsoundness of drug trials instead. It is bookended with paragraph quotes about how clinical drugs are vetted. At the end one of these paragraphs, the film goes to great lengths to criticize how these trials are performed on the homeless. It exemplifies this by makings the two men in the picture a lawyer and an award winning film editor. The women reference work, but no jobs specifically. As the film takes place in their homes, I would posit that they are not homeless. The blocks of texts offer other criticisms as well, but it doesn’t seem like the movie really shows any of those. It’s not that the fear is misplaced, it’s that the film asks viewers to engage and think about how drug trials are flawed and then presents a narrative that demonstrates a very different set of flaws. There’s no cohesion.
Altered Perceptions opens in select theaters and on VOD and Digital May 4th. It is a workable thriller. It’s tight, coming in significantly less than 90 minutes. There’s nothing particularly bad, but at the same time there’s nothing particularly good, in it.
WICKED RATING: 5/10
Director(s): Katie Rees Davies
Writer(s): Travis Romero, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, Jon Huertas
Stars: Jon Huertas, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, Mark Burnham, Jade Tailor
Release date: May 4th, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Blancbiehn Productions
Length: 73 minutes