Take a high-concept idea, throw in a heaping helping of dread, and then mix it all up with some nice existential quandaries; the result of such a concoction would be the film Radius, a science fiction/thriller by Canadian directors Caroline Labrèche and Steeve Léonard — a film that keeps the viewer guessing along with the film’s protagonists. Pulling off such a feat is not an easy task but Labrèche and Léonard, who also penned the movie, manage to construct a masterpiece that is a throwback to the days of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
We are first introduced to Liam Hartwell (Diego Klattenhoff) as he staggers bloodied from a car wreck – though he doesn’t know who he is as he’s also suffering from amnesia – but things get even worse for poor Liam when he tries to flag down a passing car and the driver suddenly dies, with the car just sliding to a stop. From here things get even worse, with dead birds plummeting from the skies and a diner full of unexpectedly dead patrons; it doesn’t take Liam long to realize that he is the cause of all these deaths, and that he seems to have acquired a “field of death” with a fifty foot radius.
While hiding out in his backyard shed – even afraid of calling the police – he is found by Rose Daerwood (Charlotte Sullivan), a woman who apparently was in the same car accident as Liam and is also suffering from amnesia, but more startling is the fact that she doesn’t fall down dead when she approaches Liam. At first, Liam assumes that whatever strange affliction was causing him to end life around him is over, but that would be too easy. Turns out, Rose isn’t exactly immune to his death field but while she is around, it’s cancelled, that is until she steps too far away and his killing field returns. Thus, we have two characters – who haven’t a clue as to who they are or what’s happened to them – having to work together to solve the mystery behind Liam’s condition, all exasperated by hearing news reports that Liam is the chief suspect in what the authorities assume to be a terrorist attack.
Not only does Radius give us a very cool conundrum – a pair thrown together under extreme mysterious conditions – but it also deals with the more philosophical idea of identity, offering up an interesting debate on how much of us is wrapped up in our memories and history, and if we lose them does that give us a clean slate? As the mystery unfolds, the cosmic origins of Liam’s “Radius of Death” almost moves to the backburner, with the more important enigma of Liam and Rose’s relationship moving to the foreground, and more importantly, what it was before they stepped into the Twilight Zone. Radius has a supporting cast of characters that either aid or hinder our heroes – at one point they get help from Rose’s husband (Brett Donahue), who is rightly concerned about his wife’s amnesia and her new “terrorist” friend – but the film is mostly about Liam and Rose, which puts a heavy burden on Klattenhoff and Sullivan, and these two actors do a fantastic job exploring the horror and drama of the situation. As their feelings towards each other swing wildly across a spectrum of emotions as the mystery slowly enfolds, the film rests solely on their shoulders, and they pull off a remarkable job with such tricky material.
The concept of a “Death Radius” is nothing new — Labrèche and Léonard were inspired by an old Superman comic book storyline, and there was an Ultimate X-Men story where Wolverine had to make a tough decision when he encountered a young boy who radiated death – but what these two filmmakers managed to do here, and with a very limited budget and small cast, is truly remarkable. So if you are a fan of dark and twisty science fiction – with a good amount of hard edged drama – then this venture into The Twilight Zone is highly recommended.