Human Factors opens on an empty beachside holiday home, the camera winding through floorboards that ache to be creaked and a gloom that doesn’t subside. Moments later, a family of four interrupt its eery silence with their bluster and business and petty bickering, but that initial shot sets a foreboding tone of dread and unarticulated decay. It’s one that will linger throughout the film, pervading every facet of this family’s seemingly ideal existence.
It soon becomes clear that such pretensions are exactly that. The major point of focus in the film happens in the first ten minutes, when an enigmatic home invasion – unseen by anyone other than mother Nina – disrupts their tranquillity, but there plenty of telltales signs before and after the fact that point to familial strife. Director Ronny Trocker makes the bold and inventive decision to highlight these cracks in the family unit via the use of distinct perspectives, rehashing the same sequence of events from the point of view of each of the four family members.
The transition between these viewpoints is likely to cause confusion at the outset, since there is little in the way of framing or separation between them. Instead, the audience is expected to pick up on the subtle tells which indicate we have zipped backwards or forwards in time. Once learned, this trick isn’t overly complex, but it does encroach on the enjoyment of the film somewhat, since it demands the viewer to devote their absolute attention to the minutiae of events just to ascertain their chronology for the duration.
It’s a neat technique for displaying how everyone has their own demons to confront, their own lies to conceal and their own agendas to follow. Unfortunately, the composite picture which emerges from this patchwork method of storytelling is somewhat underwhelming; instead of a Eureka moment at the film’s climax, it’s more likely the audience will find themselves wondering why they’ve been led such a merry dance.
As a portrait of a family falling apart from the inside out, it’s an engaging one; as an exercise in fragmenting, framing and presenting a story, it’s a unique one. It just feels as though the finickity structure and the impressive execution of adhering to it deserved a bigger payoff in terms of meaning or resolution. Sadly, we’re left with scant sustenance in the form of either.
Screening as part of Sundance Film Festival 2021