Sleep Dealer

Rather good low-budget SF film from Mexico, the debut feature of Alex Rivera. It does show it’s budget in the CG effects (think mid-90s TV level), but for the most part makes the best of it.

No stunningly original ideas (1 part Matrix, one part Minority Report, and so on…), and the themes/subtext are pretty obvious – Mexico/US relations, migrant workers and the exploitation thereof, water rights – but the story itself carries along quite well. It doesn’t attempt to create a ‘futuristic’ future, instead focussing on the depressed rural areas and Tijuana slums of a near-future Mexico cut off from the US. Instead of migrants, the country supplies the US with workers through the ‘sleep dealers’ of the title: factories where workers are plugged in and remotely connected to robots in the States. Of course, spend too much time plugged in (as workers desperate for extra cash often are), and bad things happen.

This particular theme is eventually downplayed – possibly the movie couldn’t address the larger issue on this scale of film. Instead, it focusses on the connections between three characters – the young man who has to come to the city to work when his father is killed by the company who owns the water, the city girl who meets him and sells her memories of him even as she falls for him, and the remote fighter pilot responsible for his father’s death. It’s this third character that leads to the rather weak ending, as he tracks down the young man in order to apologise and try to make amends. This leads to rather forced (and rushed) attempt at a Hollywood ending, and although the film is explicit in saying not everything is resolved, it remains unconvincing.

It’s a shame, because the set-up is convincing and atmospheric, and the leads are sympathetic if a little two-dimensional. It’s always good to see SF films from outside Hollywood – there’s plenty of horror and fantasy (to whatever degree), but far less straight up SF.

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