Subverse (Ep. 1+2) [Joseph White, USA, 2018]
Subverse is the brainchild of sci-fi director, Joseph White, a web series that follows lead character, ‘Max’ on his journey into the sordid virtual space of the internet’s darkest corner, the ‘subverse’. The first two episodes, presented as a short film, offer a world where users immerse themselves into virtual reality interfaces with increasing regularity, the blurry line between the real and the virtual, hard to pin down. As Max begins to explore the glitchy, disorientating world of the Subverse, its many temptations present alarming moral consequences that offer up some dizzyingly high stakes for a character trapped on the edge.
The world building on display is impressively strong, with the visual style offering something refreshingly alternative. The aesthetic, created through a combination of VFX, lighting and colouring, genre blends a collection of different styles like a kaleidoscope of Internet pop culture, garish and appealing in equal measure. Simple moments such as Max’s mother’s avatar shifting uncontrollably between a young model with near perfect physique, back to her obtrusive midlife reality, all immerse us into a world that feels complex and concrete, executed with the most economic use of screen time.
Tiny additions such as the rudimentary looking ‘IV’ that plugs Max into his Matrix-esque sub-reality, help develop a world that is seedy and grimy, even whilst hidden beneath a glossy skin. Alternatively, there is the motif of a glowing, orange doorway, left partially ajar, a great manifestation of the alluring temptation of the subverse’s perverse possibilities. These are but a selection from numerous examples that display a brilliant imagination and powerful, consuming storytelling.
One aspect where the film might contentiously fall short, is its soundscape. As much as it fills the film’s remit of being brash and high octane, it does at times feel as though it is competing with the visuals, as opposed to working alongside them. The sound design is often irritating; pulling the viewer out of a world that in every other respect is begging to have itself taken seriously. The sound design could well have benefitted from being slightly more “stripped back and minimal” as White’s director’s statement attests.
As a web series, the sound design, and overly pushy and unnatural feeling script, could be enough to put some potential viewers off. However, with its no holds barred approach to visuals, with inventive style, design, and fonts competing with each other to create its unique brand appeal, the series really has something to hang its hat on, and should be enough to convince a decent following to descend deeper into Max’s rabbit hole.