Zenith is an ultra low-budget psycho-drama that hops back and forth between the present and 2044. It's murky and the conclusion is confusing as all get out, but I enjoyed it – largely because of the fully committed performance by Peter Scanavino. He is so compelling that he pulls you past the "hey, what the hell is going on?" moments.
I knew nothing about Zenith when I popped the screener into my video player. Lucky me. I was able to just roll with the movie, and not be distracted or annoyed by its marketing campaign, which I only checked out after viewing.
The poster for Zenith says "A Film by Anonymous." Isn't that just precious? Under that it says "The Film They Don't Want You to See. The Conspiracy Behind it All." Glad I didn't see any of that before I watched. Apparently there's all sorts of things you can do on the Internet to draw you into the noir-ish world of the movie. They call it a "transmedia experience." I have little patience for such diversions. Again, I was lucky enough to see the movie before I knew about all the other stuff.
Here's the set-up for Zenith: In 2044, the population has been genetically altered to be happy – but most people merely feel numb, so numb they purchase and gobble up bad pharmaceuticals, because feeling awful is better than feeling blank. People don't have a lot to say either, and those that do speak use very small vocabularies.
Jack (Scanavino) sells bad drugs to those desperate to feel (but if they're desperate, doesn't that indicate they actually are feeling ... no, stop it, let it pass!). He also recites words and their meanings, determined to save the dwindling vocabulary. Jack, also known as Dumb Jack, although I don't think I ever heard anyone in the movie call him that, spends the rest of his time trying to track down information about the conspiracy behind it all. His papa, Ed (Jason Robards III), was obsessed with the Zenith conspiracy, leaving videos of his investigation scattered around the country.
If that sounded confusing, let me pare it to this: Dad is convinced of the reality of the conspiracy and his depth of his conviction anchors his portion of the film. And Jack is complex, driven and human enough to remind us what the new world is frittering away. The construct of Zenith is built around the character of Jack – if he doesn't work, neither does the movie. Young Scanavino (if the IMdB entry is correct, he turns 21 in February) nails the role – I cared about his concerns even when I didn't understand his what they were.
There's more to the production, including an erotic relationship between Jack and a stripper named Lisa (Ana Asensio). There are interesting themes at play, which I won't go into here. Suffice to say that the conspiracy theory business is not the heart of the movie – unless, of course, they got to me and made me write that.
As previously noted, Zenith is murky,
messy and choppy, but it works more than it doesn't, and Scanavino and Robards
are good enough to make up for some of the stiff performances around them. By
the way "Anonymous" is Vladan Nikolic. So there.