You could, if so inclined, sit back and enjoy Richard Mundy’s counterintuitively dynamic film, TWENTY TWENTY- FOUR, merely as an engrossing study of a loner going slowly mad in isolation. As the difference between reality and madness builds to a fever pitch, the mystery of what exactly is happening in Roy’s underground bunker matches the life-and-death fear experienced by Roy himself. A madness that may or may not be a perfectly reasonable reaction to what is happening, or something else entirely.
Set in a near and very dystopian future, Roy (Andrew Kinsler) is an Undertaker, a scientist tasked with keeping the Plethura in working order. He will not, however, be part of the chosen few who will reside in one of these 12 bunkers when the inevitable end of civilization (pollution, war, terrorism, loss of natural resources, collapse of governments) comes to pass. Rather, he will calmly take the elevator up top, satisfied with having made a mark on history. Though, as his conversations with Arthur, the computer in charge of system monitoring, reveal, he wishes that he could be just a bit more than a footnote. Conducted with Roy speaking and Arthur responding with sans serif printouts on whatever monitor is handy, these conversations reveal much about Roy, his nihilistic outlook, his altruistic impulses, and his philosophical bents that sometimes confuse Arthur, whose follow-up questions may or may not be designed to assess Roy’s mental state for those up top at Ubrix Industries (and is it a coincidence that the winged-man logo resembles a K, and if so, what should we make of that?). There is something about the way Mundy has the two interact, that brings other dimensions to that blinking cursor, so often shown in extreme close-up. Empathy, confusion, subterfuge, and even alarm. Is Roy anthropomorphizing? Are we? Is the joke Arthur tells part of a carefully coded program or has something happened that none of the programmers and engineers planned?
As the film begins, the time is two minutes to midnight. That would be the metaphorical countdown to Armageddon, and when it arrives, it is so sudden that it leaves Roy still alive in Plethura, and coping with still being alive as an endangered species. And, as is the wont of such tales, his acclimation as a lone survivor maintaining the infrastructure in order to have meaning in his life, gives way to the elation and then horror that he might not be alone. This is the first and last cliché Mundy will present. Amid the speculation about dreams and reality, there is terrifying story to be told, as Roy is stalked (or is he?) and which outcome would be worse?
This is an arresting, immersive experience. From the carefully drained color palette, to the cinematography that shifts between long tracking shots and sudden, slamming static shots that play upon both the monotony of Roy’s routine in claustrophobic settings and the unreality of them. When an object is not where it should be, when a door’s handle moves, we are never quite sure what is happening, or why, except that it is a nightmare, real or not. Abetted by performance by Kinsler that is complicated and ferocious in both its quiet moments and explosive ones.
TWENTY TWENTY-FOUR works as a mystery/thriller, but is so much richer when its allegorical implications are considered and it is revealed as a profoundly tantalizing metaphysical conundrum made manifest. The door in the facility about which Arthur knows nothing, except that there is surely death upon exiting it; management always watching and passing judgement on infractions that imply free will on Roy’s part; the sign that reminds him that salvation is in his hands; and his primal scream that is that of humankind’s impotent demand for definite answers from a universe that is forever sending mixed signals. Or none. Or is it a constant reminder of our paltry ability to understand something so infinite?