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When those in visual effects try their hand at directing, the results are often interesting. Matthew Charles Santoro worked on the visual effects for a few big movies including 300, The Incredible Hulk and two of the X-Men movies. Higher Power is a much smaller film in comparison, said to have been made for less than one million dollars. While it likely won't be mistaken for a blockbuster, it doesn't look quite so low-budget all things considered. A gamma ray burst from an exploding star is heading towards earth, which will take out the entire planet. Most of the population is kept unaware of this, but some have been working on a way to stop it. An unnamed scientist listed as "Unknown" in the credits (Colm Feore) had come close, but the project was suddenly cancelled by the company funding it so he continues on his own. A crucial component is a human that meets the project's exact requirements, and after running a DNA scan on the world's population he narrows that down to Joe Steadman (Ron Eldard), an everyman with a few problems.
In flashbacks we see that Joe was happily married with two daughters, but his wife soon died from an illness and sent him into a downward spiral of drinking. One daughter Zoe (Jordan Hinson) simply cuts him out of her life while the other, Rhea (Marielle Jaffe), also turns to a life of drugs. "Unknown" first does some behind-the-scenes manipulation to get Joe a job as a security guard at his former company, and then practically gets inside his head by implanting sensors that allow him to talk directly to him, and also see and hear everything from his point of view. For some reason though, the best way he can get Joe to do what he wants is to have his associates stalk both his daughters and threaten harm on them unless he obeys his orders. We find that a key quality in Joe's being the "match" for all of this is his levels of anger whenever his family is threatened- it turns out the angrier he gets, the more powers he "unlocks"- somewhat reminiscent of the Hulk, which director Santoro worked on the last movie of.
The narrative is a bit confusing, and left me unsure of how to write about this after the first viewing. I was able to rewatch it though (while also reading the disc's hearing-impaired subtitles) and the movie was much clearer the second time around. Most of the other reviews I've found online for this movie have been rather negative, but those willing to give it at least one repeat viewing may find it's one of those movies that grows on you. It's quite dreamlike at times, with some dialogue echoing, lots of quick cuts and sudden flashbacks of happier times that then yank back into the present. While it isn't too clear exactly how all of this manipulation of the main character is going to result in the earth being saved from destruction, it sort of makes sense by the end.
The 90-minute movie only gets a single layer Blu-Ray disc, which results in rather inconsistent picture quality. Much of it looks absolutely gorgeous, with an overall smooth appearance with an obvious favoring of the color purple throughout. However there's a bit of compression artifacts and banding, mainly in dark scenes, that cost it a few quality points.
Audio is Dolby Atmos, which I'm still not sure if I have set up optimally in my living room. I only have two height speakers due to space constraints and the need for another amp if I were to add any more, and I've been experimenting with their placement for the past year or so since getting them. Sound from them wasn't noticeable much on first viewing, but I raised their levels for my second viewing which made them much more audible without taking over the entire soundstage. As with other Atmos material, the most apparent use of the height channels for me was in the music score, along with some thunder sound effects. The four surround channels added much more to the experience, with the music score occupying all channels along with atmospheric sounds and the voice of "Unknown" sounding in Joe's head. The climax gives the subwoofer a good workout as well. While the disc has some amusing menu sound effects, you will need to disable them for the movie by turning Secondary Audio Off in your player's setup menu, otherwise you will get the straight 7.1 track as PCM without the extra Atmos information.
In addition to hearing-impaired subtitles which clarify a lot of unclear moments in the movie, Spanish subtitles are also provided.Extras:
The only movie-related extra is the film's trailer. The disc opens with trailers for Marrowbone and Don't Grow Up as well as promos for Chideo and AXS TV, with its lovely logo bug throughout and even appearing on top of another one in a brief clip.
Higher Power isn't a great film, but its overall visual and sonic atmosphere are wonderful eye and ear candy and enough for me to give this a Recommended. Like a music video, it may not make a whole lot of sense at first but it's still very nice to look at, and repeated viewings will make the storyline much clearer for those with the time and patience.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.