I’m convinced that actor-director (and sometimes writer) Noel Clarke should stick to behind-the-scenes work on motion pictures. He’s a technically sound director, one who makes good films when he’s in that position, even if he’s still yet to do anything “great.” He’s consistent and consistent, as long as it’s not consistently bad — like, say, Todd Phillips — is typically a good thing. You know what you’re going to get in terms of quality, even if what’s contained within his films will often surprise you. But he’s not a good actor.
This is proven here with The Anomaly, which puts Clarke both front-and-center for the camera, and also in the director’s chair. He’s playing a man named Ryan, who wakes up in the back of a van also carrying a child, with no idea of how he got there or what’s going on. He and the kid escape, but a few minutes later, he blacks out. When he comes to again, it’s days later. And he only stays conscious for a few minutes again. Soon enough, both he and the audience realize a pattern. He only gets to stay awake for a few minutes at a time, and for the rest of his life, his body is being controlled by someone else — and it’s doing bad “end of the world” sort of things.
So, there’s our premise. Ryan gets approximately eight minutes of control at a time, and in that space has to figure out how to stop an evil corporation from effectively ending the world. He has no control over when and where he “wakes up,” or who he’s with. And the evildoers, represented mostly by a man named Harkin (Ian Somerhalder), try to stop him at every turn. They don’t want their work ruined, after all.
What we have here is a low-budget sci-fi actioner that brings with it an interesting idea, some expertly shot and put together action scenes, and a pretty ridiculous script. Yeah, some of the dialogue is just silly, especially if you think back on it after the fact. But the pacing, and the way the film’s premise keeps jumping us around in varying states of confusion, helps mitigate that. You’re too busy trying to piece together the mystery to stop and think about how silly it all is.
Let’s get to the action scenes. They consist primarily of one-take hand-to-hand combat scenes that are edited and shot like they were from 300, but without the CGI backdrop, weaponry, and blood. Some of it is in real-time, but much of it is slowed down and then sped up on impact, which is a cool effect … for a while. After the fourth time, it loses its effectiveness. All of it is still technically impressive and are choreographed well, and you might marvel at the action scenes just because of that, but as a visceral and thrilling experience, they can’t keep up the same level of intensity throughout.
I don’t like to use the “X crossed with Y, with a dash of Z” cliché to describe movies. It marginalizes them. But, sometimes, it helps the reader out. So, let’s do it. The Anomaly is like Source Code crossed with Total Recall and with a dash of The Matrix. Before you ask: no, it isn’t as good as any of those.
Noel Clarke is a good director with some interesting ideas about storytelling and the competence to back them up. He is not a good actor and should not be trusted to be the lead in a film — working in a bit role is a much better idea for him. Ditto for pretty much everyone involved, actually. The acting in this movie is really, really not good, and probably makes the silly lines of dialogue sound even worse. Alexis Knapp and Ian Somerhalder make up the other two most-seen actors, while Luke Hemsworth has a small role and is noticeably bad. Brian Cox has a thankless extended cameo, and serves only to make you wonder how this project attracted Brian Cox.
The Anomaly is an ambitious sci-fi action film that might at times suffer from a low budget, but still manages to thoroughly entertain. It has an intriguing premise whose mystery keeps you from thinking about how silly it all is — in the moment, at least — and some really good action scenes, even if the slow motion does eventually get repetitive. A better leading actor, some more money, and maybe a script re-write, and you have a sci-fi classic. As it is, you have an entertaining movie.