The most striking aspect of OtherLife (2017) is the way it both resembles and is completely different than its source material. Based on Kelley Eskridge’s exceptional SF novel Solitaire, OtherLife is less an adaptation than a liberal, creative interpretation of the book’s characters, premise, and ideas. Fans of the novel may find themselves forced to readjust their expectations, but it still makes for excellent science fiction.
Ren Amari (Jessica De Gouw) is the inventor of an innovative new biological software that enables users to have vivid virtual-reality experiences directly in their minds. Spending mere minutes in a drug-like OtherLife “trip” feels like hours or days in the simulation, making it the perfect remedy for users who feel like they never have enough free time. Ren and her demanding partner Sam (T.J. Power) are up against time pressure as the launch date for the product rapidly approaches. Their efforts include groveling for investment funds, including from some sources Ren wants nothing to do with. But unbeknownst to her colleagues, Ren has a hidden agenda for OtherLife, for which she’s been conducting secretive experiments — experiments that will have tragic and unexpected consequences.
OtherLife is a thoughtful, intriguing film that smartly deploys its science fictional ideas. The pacing is a bit slow to start, but it gathers momentum as it goes, its plot eventually ramping into twisty, mindbending territory reminiscent of Brazil or The Matrix. Its budget is too modest for that level of spectacle, perhaps, but it’s still an attractive production, anchored by De Gouw’s charismatic central performance. Unfortunately, OtherLife lacks the involved future world-building of the novel, and can’t quite match its lyrical, heartfelt tone. Viewers unfamiliar with the novel won’t notice this, of course, and it’s easy to see why the story was retooled to focus its energies elsewhere. Ultimately it’s an intelligent, subtle science fiction film, well worth watching.