Dylan K. Narang’s Soundwave is an inventive sci-fi film noir with superhero movie touches. The unique premise revolves around a Peter Parker-esque whiz kid named Ben (Hunter Doohan) who fixes vintage radios for ageing customers at a repair store. Secretly using random, leftover parts from his job, he invents a machine that picks up soundwaves from the past and listens to private conversations. Doohan—reminiscent of a young Anton Yelchin—gives a strong, credible performance as an intelligent kid in over his head. The logic behind his invention is a bit puzzling, but Ben’s poignant attachment to it is moving and negates any confusion. Ben’s true aim with the machine is to discover what happened on the day his dad disappeared, but he also uses his extraordinary power for the greater good by helping a local police detective named Macy (Vince Nappo), much to the chagrin of his boss/mentor Antonio (a compelling Mike Beaver).
However, Macy has other intentions. He introduces Ben to Frank (Paul Tassone), a mob boss so blatantly sinister he may as well have a twirling moustache. When Ben refuses to sell his incredible device, which has extraordinary monetary value, he ends up on the run from Frank’s henchman. When not dodging criminals, Ben develops a crush on a sweet but enigmatic store clerk named Katie (an airy, serene performance from Katie Owsley). Ben has slyly been listening to her personal discussions with his invention, including those with her therapist. Narang’s script thankfully acknowledges Ben’s predatory behaviour, and Owsley and Doohan’s emotional connection transcends the creepiness. The pair bond over their deceased parents, since Katie lost her mother years ago.
During the scenes where Ben uses his gadget, Narang slows the picture into comic-book style still images with normal sound. These hyper-stylised visuals are often frustratingly cheesy and reveal the budget constraints, but Narang’s overall exploration of the machine’s ramifications, significance, and ability to wreak havoc is completely thrilling. Soundwave has the look of a film noir in the rainy, dark Los Angeles streets, but it also has a colourful neon-flared style—with shades of reds, yellows, blues, and greens—that really pops. Sonically, the pulse-pounding score ramps up the film’s overall intensity.
Soundwave is at its best when it questions Ben’s moral responsibility to his creation, as well as the responsibility we all have with technology and its powerful potentialities for both good and evil; “Just because we can hear everything doesn’t mean we should,” Narang writes. The film really digs into the idea of what would happen if this was invented, particularly by a teenager. Would he succumb to temptation and sell it to those with heinous intentions to become a billionaire? Or would he prevail and use it to help people? Can this type of machine even be helpful? Through the lead characters’ touching relationship, Soundwave ultimately becomes about what we hear when we truly listen to one another, as well as the importance of being there for someone. Not only does Narang write intriguing characters, he is also masterful at building tension and crafting electrifying action set pieces. Soundwave has a fun, creative premise that immediately starts with a bang and pulsates with an electrifying energy that never wanes.
Soundwave is now available to rent on VOD
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero, Bruce Springsteen. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD and also appears in Fandor, Reverse Shot, Crooked Marquee, and IndieWire. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss. Order her book Springsteen as Soundtrack here.