Thrillers involving multiple personalities occupying the same body are nothing new. The mind is a mutable ground on which to wage a pitched battle, perfect terrain for everything from exploitation slashers, to psychological puzzlers, to sci-fi head-scratchers. The twisty, but highly silly Taiwanese effort Plurality, like its protagonist, wears many such faces throughout, to wearying effect.

Someone is kidnapping children with birth defects. Police have got nowhere, but when the deaf son of a city councillor becomes the latest victim, they’re forced to take drastic measures to solve the case. Five potential suspects have been killed in a bus crash. Their brain patterns are scanned and uploaded into the body of a death row inmate, previously in a vegetative coma since a suicide attempt.  This man, ‘Case 193’ (Tony Yang) is interrogated by Detective Wang (Frederick Lee) and the scientist who created the procedure, Dr Shen (Sandrine Pinna). Before long, the various personalities begin to vie for control, although one seems to have some hidden memories that could lead the authorities to the missing children.

Unlike films like Identity and Split, where the story is driven by mental disorder, Plurality sidesteps accusations of exploitation, even if the narrative structure is not unlike that of M. Knight Shyamalan‘s return to relative acclaim. Initially, it seems that Shiao is more keen on exploring the ethical question of one person’s (non-consenting) body being used as an existential battleground, even if the intention is to locate missing children. This however falls by the wayside in favour of the battle for 193’s conscience. Yang does an excellent job switching between personalities with modulations of tone and gesture; his performance substantially dialled-down compared to James McAvoy‘s bafflingly overpraised gurning in Split. Lee and Pinna also provide able support, adapting well as both detective and doctor are forced to keep their feet on the constantly shifting sands.

The premise itself is forged from pure handwavium, although one with intriguing potential. As the interrogations begin and we jump between seeing the various suspects as jostling elements of 193’s psyche, and the flesh-and-blood characters themselves, played by Gingle Wang and Yi-wen Chen among others, it feels like we’re in for a unique spin on the police procedural drama. Instead, as the literally internal squabbling escalates and various personalities come to the fore, the story becomes increasingly complex to the point of incoherence. This isn’t helped by most of the film taking place in a sterile laboratory of pretty uniform design and colour. Even when we’re in the mind of 193, we remain in the same location, simply tinted blood red.

Plurality tries too hard for narrative complexity, even as it drops into the familiar tropes of the exploitation films it stubbornly pretends it isn’t. Too often the decisions made by the characters are the dumbest ones possible, purely so the plot can roll on and the next twist be revealed. There is no point in spinning a web of Gordian knot density if you need to hack through it yourself in order to keep any semblance of momentum. ‘Is there a cure for stupidity?’ one of 193’s Legion sneers? Apparently not, although it doesn’t rule out gaining a position of responsibility in the fields of law and biotech in this universe.

And yet, it’s not without intelligence. The whistled use of ‘Allouette‘ as a musical leitmotif is a subtle link nod to the killer’s eugenically-minded MO, for those aware of the darker interpretation of the song. And there are clever character moments such as 193 driving at high speed as he flits between characters, some of whom can’t drive. But these moments are too few and far between in the attempt to cram in the next revelation. In fact, Plurality is as stuffed as the doomed lark to which ‘Alouette’ refers, resulting in a frustratingly choppy film that feels far longer than its runtime.

Available On-demand from Mon 19 Jul 2021