Review by Sean Boelman
Some of the most exciting voices in genre filmmaking are the new ones, and that is the case with We Might As Well Be Dead co-writer/director Natalia Sinelnikova. Her dystopian thriller is filled to the brim with so many interesting ideas that, even when it isn’t a home run, it’s an entirely fascinating watch.
The film follows the residents of an apartment building, one of the last remnants of civilization in a collapsed future society, as their own community begins to fall apart piece by piece. It’s very reminiscent of J.G. Ballard’s iconic social commentary High Rise, and that certainly isn’t a bad thing to be compared to.
There is certainly a lot of social commentary to be found in the movie, and it’s admittedly a bit on the messy side. But given that this is not only Sinelnikova’s feature debut, but also a graduation project, it’s pretty dang accomplished for what it is. Some of its unevenness can be chalked up to inexperience.
If there is one thing that could have been done better about the film, it is the character development. Although the central character is compelling and has an interesting arc, the supporting characters all feel shallow and underdeveloped. Some quirky supporting characters could have gone a long way in making the world feel more immersive.
Still, Ioana Iacob’s leading performance is so exquisite that it carries the movie in its own right. She brings a lot of mystery to the role while still feeling entirely approachable. Her character is very much the audience’s lens into this uncanny world, and yet at the same time,
Sinelnikova takes a very interesting approach to the film’s world-building. Many dystopian movies take place on either a massive or minor scale, but this world is something in between. It has all of the claustrophobia of a more intimate dystopia without sacrificing the dread that is inspired by a larger-scale vision of the future.
Sinelnikova’s style certainly owes a lot to other European filmmakers that are working today — if you said that she was a big fan of Yorgos Lanthimos, it wouldn’t be surprising — but the vision with which she approaches this slightly familiar concept and mood is what heralds her as an exciting new voice in filmmaking.
We Might As Well Be Dead may not have the most original concept, but the way in which it is executed works extraordinarily well. It will be exciting to see what Sinelnikova does next as she is able to rein things in a bit further.
We Might As Well Be Dead screened at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs July 13 through August 3.