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RZ-9 (2014)
Director: Iain Carson

review by Andrew Darlington

There are those on the outer fringes of libertarian thought who believe 9-11 is part of some dark disturbing conspiracy. Just as the Cold War melts and the bad guys suddenly evaporate, Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden pull off a spectacular stunt, one that not only legitimises but necessitates new security crack-downs and restrictions of civil rights. There's an off-hand parallel here when Jack and Sam, fleeing the Eraser, find temporary refuge in an old Cold War defence bunker.

RZ-9 is a fairly poor low-budget shot at exploitational sci-fi. But there's something about such quickies that snag. All those cheapo Roger Corman flicks of the 1950s had the knack of wheedling into the nuclear angst of the time in ways that more serious-minded mainstream cinema could not. It hit nerves you were only barely aware were there. The RZ-9 bonus making-of featurette makes this intention quite clear. This may be writer-director Iain Carson's first full-length project, with a largely un-blooded cast and limited resources, but his ambitions are not so modest.

"In the wake of the Chicago massacre" Los Angeles is 'gone' in a terrorist nuclear attack. Civil rights are suspended in response as privatised US Army-NORCORP Erasure Teams track and confront terrorism using targeting drones. Casualties are deemed 'acceptable' against protesters and rioters alike. Patterson Endcott (Joshua Marble) uneasily monitors and directs drone strikes, but when he finds himself listed on a 'threat' database, uses his computer expertise to activate a Gatekeeper program to inhibit the system and then flees, pausing only to pick up his bratty teenage sister Sam (Morgan Obenreder). With pursuit co-ordinated by his former commander Jacob Smith (Michael Gier), the fugitives link up with Jack Taylor (Charlie Gillette), of the so-called People's Resistance. It's Jack's plan to escape through the Red Zone, towards neutral Canada, their flight complicated by a tracker-tag on Sam's leg fixed there for curfew violation!

And RZ-9 (Ethan McDowell), in death's-head Darth Vader helmet and black body-armour, leads a team of Erasers to eliminate them with extreme prejudice. Think zero-budget Terminator chasing Sarah Connor across dystopian America, although much of what subsequently occurs happens in forest wilderness, which - as in traditional Hollywood westerns, represents freedom and renewal (and requires no expensive CGI). Dialogue is stilted and occasionally mannered. Yet the good guy-bad guy lines are effectively blurred. They are all 'conflicted souls' who are equally 'morally compromised'. Blond RZ-9 is motivated to prevent an atrocity greater than nuked LA. He's acting according to Smith's orders, whose wife and daughter were vapourised alongside six million others in that terrorist blast.

The script has an essentially liberal heart, careful to frame the terrorist threat as religious in nature - but equal-opportunity Christian, Judaic or Islamist. And the Endcotts place themselves in the crosshairs by having a crucifix on their apartment wall, and carrying bibles in their backpack (the locket Patterson passes to Sam is likely what Hitchcock called a 'macguffin', a plot device). While Jack's freedom fighters may be kicking back at the excessive security regime... but when and if that tips over into terrorism is up for grabs. There's a trail of blood as they're picked off one a time. Target erased. And some character development. RZ-9 allows Sam to escape, and he gets water-boarded by Smith as a consequence; while Sam is radicalised, and emerges stronger.

Yet despite its limitations, its contradictions hit nerves you were only barely aware were there. Nudging awkward issues such as, CCTV is Orwellian, yet people demand it to counter hoodie-muggers. They expect radical preacher emails and websites to be intercepted and monitored, despite issues of cyber-confidentiality. Legal anti-fracking, animal-rights activists, and Occupy groups, are routinely infiltrated under the guise of anti-subversion. And there are those on the outer fringes of conspiracy theory who have dark disturbing doubts about 9-11.

RZ-9 on DVD

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