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Cerebrum #MovieReview

Synopsis: To make ends meet, Tom signs on as a guinea pig at a home-based lab, but when he commits a crime he cannot remember, he must risk his own sanity to reveal the truth.

Cerebrum Movie Poster - showing a microchip outline over the back of a person's head.

Tagline: Have you backed up your brain?

Title: Cerebrum | Director: Arvi Ragu | Writers: Arvi Ragu, Gary D. Houk | Starring: James Russo, Christian James, Alexxis Lemire, Anirudh Pisharody, John Ruby | Release Year: 2021 | Runtime: 120 minutes | Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller | Language: English | Source: Screener | Unstarred Review

Cerebrum Review

I had high hopes for this one. I’m a big fan of mind-altering science fiction, of anything to do with false memories, or brain hacks, or body swaps. And Cerebrum looks beautiful: crisp and clear California desert photography, a heat shimmer in the background of every outdoor shot. Unfortunately, the ideas end up feeling a little too small, and the film doesn’t really go anywhere new or exciting.

Here’s the set-up: Tom (Christian James) has reluctantly agreed to return home to his estranged father’s desert shack, where he is to be paid to take part in some medical experiments. His father, Kirk (James Russo), is attempting to make a cure for Alzheimer’s – and really, any other memory problems you care to name – by allowing you to upload your memories to a small disk and re-download them at a later date. His technology works, but only for a few minutes at a time, and that’s why he needs Tom: to act as a human guinea pig, to allow him to get the hold time up.

The uses and abuses of such technology are obvious and ripe, both in the real world and in the fun thought experiment of a low-budget science fiction movie. While Kirk’s invention is supposed to allow you to back-up and restore your own memories, there’s nothing to stop you downloading someone else’s – or downloading your own into someone else’s body. Kirk’s already had to chase out one lab assistant for trying to sell the technology to a shady millionaire who wanted to use it to live forever. Hence, he only trusts family now.

More than that, he wants to reunite with Tom, and if money’s the only way to bring him home, so be it. Like all good crackpot movie inventors, Kirk was a distant father, sending Tom away at a young age so he could work on his project in solitude. Too late, he realizes he’s cause a rift between them. This could be his last chance to reconnect with his son. Et cetera, et cetera.

These are some of the better moments in Cerebrum: the difficult, antagonistic conversations between father and son, Kirk’s attempts to talk to Tom thwarted by his lack of knowledge of the man he is now, by Tom’s angry refusal even to engage with his father. Russo’s great. He’s got a Michael Rooker energy to him, a prickly tough guy with a big wellspring of heart just beneath the surface. James, unfortunately, is less so, a stiffness to his acting undermining a lot of the emotional side of the film.

As for the rest, it just doesn’t coalesce. The nice central idea – small personality disks that you can slot into a device worn on the wrist, portable and ripe for abuse – isn’t taken to any great new extreme, and the film fails to go anywhere beyond the expected. It’s also distinctly uninterested in the wider implications of the tech beyond their immediate effect on its characters. It certainly doesn’t have enough twists to justify its two-hour runtime, and ends up feeling very slow as a result. There might have been enough here for a good ninety-minute movie, but it feels like it needed a more rigorous time in the editing suite.

That’s a shame. I liked a lot about Cerebrum. It looks great. And the final confrontation is pretty good, a nice idea decently well staged. But it should have been the halfway point, the moment before everything goes really crazy, rather than the denouement to a two-hour movie. I was looking forward to something twisty and mind-bendy, and this never got there. As the credits rolled, I was left disappointed, and my final thought was, “Was that it?”

Published inMovie ReviewsUnstarred Reviews

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