The historical importance of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is undeniable in the field of dystopian sci-fi, as it influenced the very fabric of stories based on human vs. machine interactions, as well as the A.I. discussion in general. Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 also left a lasting impression, imbuing the narrative with beautiful graphics and a story focused on fundamental identity, loss, and loneliness. Zone 414, Andrew Baird’s directorial debut, clearly borrows from the Blade Runner world to the point that inspiration becomes mindless replication, with the characters appearing as mere shadows of the acclaimed original. Zone 414 barely keeps afloat with its oft-repeated clichés, which eventually come to a listless, predictable finish.
Zone 414 begins with an overview of a dystopian society highly reliant on technology, although it isn’t aesthetically fascinating enough to add to its already sparse worldbuilding. The spectator is given a peek of Veidt Corporation, a stand-in for Tyrell Corporation, both responsible for the mass manufacture of androids. Enter David Carmichael (Guy Pearce), and a former detective turned private investigator who has a distant, emotionless demeanor while carrying out a kill on an unknown lady. Carmichael quickly takes her down with a gunshot to the head, ignoring her pained screams, and pulls back her scalp to extract a mechanical core, revealing that his target was all along with a machine.
Aside from questions concerning ethical relativism and what constitutes a human being, Zone 414 fails to dive deeper into the intricacies of its narrative strands, neglecting to add its specific components to an entirely borrowed tale. Carmichael is questioned by the creepily eccentric Joseph Veidt (Jonathan Aris), who appears to dwell in the shadow of his brother, Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel), who plays the role of a brilliant inventor who gave birth to synthetics. The mission is to locate Marlon’s daughter, Melissa (Holly Demaine), in Zone 414, a filthy, walled metropolis populated by synthetics and the only legal place where humans and androids may mix.
Carmichael is also made aware of Marlon’s greatest invention, Jane (Matilda Lutz), who is regarded as an outlier owing to her ability to experience human emotions rather than copy them. Zone 414’s interiors are a strangely familiar sight – ladies in multicolored wigs and clothes inspired by the cyberpunk movement, neon-lit streets that are perpetually soaked in the rain, and personality-ridden apartment lofts filled occasionally with flashing lights.
While Carmichael is nowhere as complicated as Rick Deckard, his actions following his encounter with Jane feel like an unimaginative copy of Deckard’s dealings with Rachael, lacking the emotional and ethical conflict that enriches the Blade Runner tales.
Surprisingly, the central theme of Zone 414 is violence against women, both human and synthetic, which is manifested via casual carelessness and needless sequences of torture and subjection that serve no meaningful purpose. Then there’s Jane, who’s intended to be the emotional center of the picture, akin to Marcus in Detroit: Become Human – a machine with enough feelings to override its programming and blaze brightly like a forest fire. Despite Lutz’s best efforts, Jane’s presence feels unnatural.
On the other hand, Pearce performs well as the emotionally plagued Detective Carmichael, even though his responsibilities of the past include a telltale narrative of guilt, murders, and the necessity to live with the past. Zone 414 shares far too many parallels with its predecessors, right down to Marlon’s god complex resulting from his capacity to create life, the existence of naked, synthetic bodies wrapped in plastic, and the systematic torture of androids.