It would appear that the recent decision by Warner Bros. to abandon the release of her near-completed film Batgirl was motivated entirely by boring old tax reasons, but what if there was something much more sinister at play? Such is the setup of Immortality, the latest investigative thriller from the creators of Her Story and Telling Lies, which had me sifting through an archive of FMV footage from three never-before-seen films in a bid to find out exactly why they never born. Despite some surprisingly superficial research tools, what followed was a very absorbing endeavor that started out as some kind of puzzle, but turned into the cinematic equivalent of a Magic Eye poster, and I found myself sat completely transfixed as each piece fell into place until suddenly Immortality’s true subject came into focus and its shocking greatest image was revealed.
Bridging the three unreleased films is Marissa Marcel (played by Manon Gage), a model-turned-actress who starred in each of the doomed productions and never worked again thereafter. She’s featured in the opening clip of Immortality through a guest spot in 1969 on a Johnny Carson-style talk show, charismatic and full of optimism for her big-screen debut, but from there , his ill-fated career is experienced as a jumble of out-of-sequence on-set takes, table reads, rehearsals, and 8mm home movies that span a 30-year period. Gage gives an absolutely electric performance in the lead role and I literally couldn’t take my eyes off her as I had to sift through almost 200 clips of her by the time Immortality’s approximately nine hour story had reached its end.
The images themselves are utterly believable, not only due to the era-specific film stocks and aspect ratios used, but also a host of smaller details – from archaic bullying between taken from a misogynistic director during the production of Ambrosio in 1968, to the perfectly cheesy turn-of-the-century pop performance in Two of Everything in 1999. There’s a rawness throughout that further reinforces that sense of authenticity, with actors struggling not to laugh at a naked corpse before the clack of a clapperboard signals a dramatic scene in a morgue, and stagehands stepping in to rig primitive special effects. Immortality almost convinced me that I was looking into a collection of lost clips from productions that actually existed – a feast of found footage that was just as easy to buy as the original Blair Witch Project – that made my efforts to piece together all together all the more determined.
In fact, navigating Immortality’s expanding catalog of clips involves a process that effectively combines the whirring mechanical playback of an old-school Moviola editing machine with the advanced AI-based frame matching of video engines. modern research. You can move forward and backward at varying speeds, instantly jump to either end of a reel, or even go frame by frame. Such fine control over playback is paramount, as to dig up new clips you have to hit pause and click on a face or prop to instantly jump to a corresponding instance in another sequence. I quickly found myself tumbling down rabbit holes and teleporting between time periods as I gradually reconstructed the plots of the three films and, more importantly, got a deeper insight into the relationships between the main actors across candid moments that unfolded after the director shouted “Cut.”
This setup might seem reasonably simple for a non-linear story, but there’s actually a lot more going on in Immortality than it initially seems. To go into too much detail here would be to disarm it from its most amazing story moments, but it goes without saying that there are subtle clues that point to more malevolent forces at play early on. These initially came in the form of horror-inducing flashes of a double take as I ran through a clip at high speed, which triggered alternate sequences featuring an enigmatic provocateur known only as The One ( played by Charlotta Mohlin) when examined more closely. Mohlin is absolutely spellbinding in the role, and her increasingly disturbing influence on your ongoing search sets the stage for a series of chilling revelations and chilling, alarming images that give the term “behind the scenes” an ominous new meaning. .
Cutting room fault
Being able to cycle between sequences by simply clicking on objects or faces may well be an easier setup than the typed search terms of Her Story and Telling Lies, and it’s certainly a lot friendlier for console gamers, but it can also be somewhat random. Occasionally I would click on an object in the foreground, like a hand holding a keycard for example, only for Immortality to interpret this as me selecting the window behind and thus clipping it to a random window in another clip . It was equally disappointing every time the cursor changed to indicate that a certain person’s face could be searched, only to have it drag me back into the sequence I was already in.
The image-based search function also means that Immortality seems oversimplified when it comes to the actual investigative side of things, and I got the general impression that the majority of my discoveries are the result of a dumb luck rather than being the direct result. of any actual deduction. There were certainly a handful of memorable occasions where I felt rewarded for having eagle eyes – freezing a frame in the split second when an off-screen character was revealed in a reflection, for example – but more often than not, I would continuously click on the same faces and objects until I exhausted the number of new matches they discovered, before moving on to the next one. It’s a method that can feel rough and boring at times, like when I clicked on a very distinctive smiley face pendant and it paired it with an entirely different piece of jewelry, and regular randomness feels like that the process forgoes a proper Google search in favor of spamming the “I’m lucky” button instead.
That said, while I rarely felt like I got there on my own, the main story revelations of Immortality never failed to surprise me. The complex narrative is masterfully crafted; looping and layering on itself and continually recontextualizing events via a drip stream of new details, gradually deciphering the initially cryptic monologues delivered by The One and bringing to the surface the true reasons for Marcel’s apparent exile from the film industry. In fact, the moment it all fell into place was so shocking and the truth became fully apparent to me that if I had live streamed my reading, the picture in picture of my face would have been thrown in a zoom cart like I was the main character in a Hitchcock movie.