When his friend Mara disappears, one young man sets off across a desiccated New York, just as a strange disease called “the blank” has ravaged the population.
In search of Mara and wanting to get her some checks, our unnamed hero encounters not just clues about Mara’s disappearance, but also a cross-section of various citizens. At one point, he finds himself taking opium with a friend of Mara’s, which spins him deeper into a dark netherworld and going down a proverbial tunnel, where he finally encounters Mara and discovers just what happened to her.
Writer-director Tyler Walker’s short is a narcotic mix of lo-fi urban fantasia and hard-boiled film noir mystery, a freewheeling dive into what’s revealed as a dystopian city full of despair and beset by almost apocalyptic ruin.
Told in gritty yet luminous black-and-white cinematography, film buffs may compare this to Darren Aronofsky’s “Pi,” which also portrayed an alternate, menacing cityscape through a modern surrealist lens, using black-and-white in an almost hallucinogenic way to reflect the fractured souls living in a troubled time and place.
Like Aronofsky, Walker isn’t afraid to blur genre lines and upend narrative expectations in favor of creating a hypnotic, compelling cinematic experience. And like the early films of famous New York director Jim Jarmusch, he offers a take on portraying the city experience that explores its own unique rhythm and fixations while spinning a yarn populated with strange, lost souls.
The film also isn’t afraid to be playful with form, using editing, image and sound in an almost expressionistic way to portray the inner lives and states of his various characters. The strength of the film isn’t in any one element, but rather in how all the ingredients come together to create a genuinely singular storytelling experience, one that has flashes of humor but offers a disturbing frisson at the end, when it reveals Mara’s fate — and the way she’s been dehumanized as a result.
“What a Beautiful World This Will Be” treats its narrative lightly, as a vehicle to build a fascinating, idiosyncratic take on the mythos of New York. There’s no pretense to naturalism or a desire to hide the seams of craftsmanship, but by going full-tilt into its strange, deadpan take on dystopian film noir fantasy, it offers an artful, engaging take on urban alienation that’s equal parts cool and spooky. It may take awhile to settle into the film’s offbeat sensibility, but like a dream, it comes together with a logic of its own, and its images and soundbites will linger after viewing, full of suggestion and strange import.