Be advised. THE TANGLE is a hard-boiled techno-noir to which close attention must be paid. Fortunately, this intriguing bit of speculative fiction is also an enticing piece of filmmaking, making that requirement a pleasure. Rendered with a suitably moody chiaroscuro and a mid-century vibe, this murder mystery is plotted with fiendishly clever twists, while the dialogue is a dense and poetic prose delivered with snap and bite. Take nothing for granted as you step into a future that might be near or far, and a premise that is disquietingly or tantalizingly possible.
That premise would be the titular Tangle, explained at one point as having the same relation to the internet, referred to here as the old triple w, as HAL has to an abacus. The short version is that it makes the world a searchable database for those connected to it, and everyone is. By choice.
Most of the action takes place in a single room, a situation that detracts not a whit from the taut mystery and tense drama of personalities in conflict and under pressure. It is there that Carter (Joshua Bitton), the murder suspect, is being questioned by Edward (writer/director Christopher Soren Kelly), and Laurel (Jessica Graham), two agents of the Army of Simple Purity, A.S.P. for short, the government bureau that monitors the Tangle. Not that there’s much to monitor. It’s the first murder in three years thanks to the nanobots that prevent violence of any kind, from murder to touching a hot stove to injuring oneself in a fall. The added reflex channeled through the S.O.L. (Secure On-Tangle Line) that forms a hard drive on the cerebral cortex. All very neatly thought out by Soren, who provides the necessary exposition just as neatly by using how the agents counter Carter’s protestations of innocence with how the Tangle works as proof of his guilt.
As the interrogation continues, the motive for the murder becomes more sinister, as does the third agent on the scene, Francesca (Nicole da Silva), a woman warrior with a devotion to coffee and its sometimes unorthodox uses. There is an oneiric quality to the proceedings, even when they turn violent, partly because the safe rooms, the ones that the Tangle can’t penetrate, are furnished with such anachronisms as rotary phones and analog wall clocks. And partly because of the patois that calls the real world a 404, and a computer scientist a grease monkey to a Babbage box. It has the ring of authenticity while still being an invention of Kelly’s fertile imagination.
This is more than a flight of fancy about the next stage of interconnectivity, though. It intelligently considers issues of intimacy and isolation in a world where a willing population wears its avatars instead of real faces, and refuses to use their eyes when the Tangle offers a vision paradise. It makes the use of Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan the perfect descant to the story as well as a poignant refrain. Anchored by gripping performances full of nuance, bravado, and desolation, THE TANGLE nimbly playing with both genres and audience expectations, making it as intellectually stimulating as it is thoroughly entertaining.