Review “Anon” by Andrew Niccol (Netflix): a disappointing futuristic thriller

After Time Out in 2011, Andrew Niccol returns to the future with Anon, his new sci-fi thriller that tackles the themes of privacy and new invasive technologies. Despite a very interesting aesthetic, the film struggles to captivate due to a poorly exploited scenario.

A seductive aesthetic that goes perfectly with the purpose

In a future where privacy no longer exists, Sal (Clive Owen) sees his job much simplified now that he has access to all of anyone’s data: all of everyone’s visual memories are now recorded thanks to the ‘Eye. A system reminiscent of that of the episode The Entire History of You from the Serie black-mirror, and more advanced since Sal can see all of anyone’s private data at a glance. Privacy no longer exists, even in death. The aesthetics of the film is thus very strongly marked by these permanent flows of information, which invade the screen as soon as we enter the gaze of a character. This visual choice also raises the question of a certain profitability of vision, which here is no longer used to contemplate but to analyze.

Review "Anon" by Andrew Niccol (Netflix): a disappointing futuristic thriller

Throughout the film, the camera will thus move between the gaze of the characters and fixed external shots. The latter are often reminiscent of surveillance cameras by their position: under a bench, in the corner of a room… So many dives that tend to crush the characters, and especially Sal. This brings out a feeling of ill-being and permanent anxiety, a symbol of this over-examined society. In such a scenario, it is this mastery of the image (simple but effective) that allows the viewer to feel the oppression and quasi-totalitarianism of such a system. But the most interesting thing about this back and forth is the parallel he establishes between the camera and human vision: each glance itself becomes this surveillance camera that scrutinizes the smallest details. Big Brother is everyone.

Where the image best serves its purpose is when Anon, a pirate whom Sal suspects of being behind several murders, manages to take control of the Eye. Because if this technology can have advantages, it can also be used to distort reality, and show doctored images. The best moments of the film follow when Sal can no longer trust what he sees, and neither can the spectator. How can we know if the camera is not playing with our own gaze? But the scene (perhaps the most captivating of the film) is ultimately quite short, and perhaps we would have liked Andrew Niccol to play more with the ambiguity that this image game brings, or even to develop themes meta-cinematic. Because in the end, isn’t the cinema itself a machine that shows us what it wants?

Fascinating but poorly exploited issues

The biggest weak point of the film remains its scenario: after half an hour, the plot becomes very repetitive, without going to the end of its ideas. While the whole story could have gone to fascinating extremes (with the use of the Eye hack, or Sal’s tragic past), it stagnates in storyline-heavy dialogue that’s hardly thrilling.

qAAPN Review "Anon" by Andrew Niccol (Netflix): a disappointing futuristic thriller

So instead of dwelling on these few lengths, let’s rather focus on the very exciting issues that the film poses (without really exploiting them). One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is the connection between memories and backup records. In effect, the characters seem to store their memories in a matrix, and erasing them is thus only a matter of computing. This dystopian aspect of memory questions the spectator on the control he has of himself in the face of all the new technologies that are evolving, and takes on a particular resonance when the term “ghost” is pronounced. The ghost is first of all that ofAnon, who does not want to give any information about his private life and who is therefore invisible to those who only seek this information. The second is that of Sal’s son, who is now just one saved file among others and can disappear at any time. Can we really understand someone only by rational data? Are memories then only lines of code? So many questions to which the film unfortunately does not provide answers, and curious viewers will have to settle for a very insignificant resolution.

Just like these issues, the actors are also under-exploited: it seems difficult for them to flourish in this scenario. Their performances stick perfectly to the characters, but without any particular brilliance. The long times of the film as well as the lack of reference points (there is no time indication, and the past of the characters is vaguely evoked without any real deepening, which is a shame for a subject which claims to abolish private life) prevent the spectator to feel a real empathy for the main characters, and to project themselves into this world.

Andrew Niccol finally struggles to develop his point, and the scenario seems to be hampered by an invisible barrier. While viewers accustomed to episodes of black-mirror will await an agonizing and fascinating climax, Anon offers us only a tenth of its exploitable possibilities. A film that risks quickly falling into anonymity.

Trailer Anon

Review “Anon” by Andrew Niccol (Netflix): a disappointing futuristic thriller – just focus