Fantasia 2023: Restore Point Argues the Duality of Tech Companies

Image Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

Ben Franklin once said, “In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes,” that saying feels like it gets a little more factual every day. Having just signed the Declaration of Independence, a document built from the oppressive cries of “taxation without representation is tyranny,” the governance of the United States was born. You may be asking, what the hell this American history lesson has to do with Restore Point, a science fiction film from the Czech Republic? But, in sci-fi, the past needs to be considered.

A futuristic film like Restore Point relies heavily on the modern age and details aberrations that could shift society to a place of ill intent. Technology is the contemporary outlier in the modern age, represented by commercialist organizations with little oversight or regulation. An expansion into virtual spaces and procedures that Franklin, or anyone from that era, couldn’t possibly conceptualize. And therein lies the futuristic nightmare, the wild west of what’s possible, versus the corporate greed structure that has inflated its value beyond the pale. 

The cityscape of Restore Point

Restore Point opens with Detective Trochinowska (Andrea Mohylová) trying to stop a terrorist organization, River of Life, amid a killing spree. See, in writers Tomislav Cecka and Zdenek Jecelin’s 2038, the world has become emboldened by a technological invention where tragedies are a thing of the past. Everyone on Earth can live a complete life. If someone were to perish in a car accident or get murdered on the street, an uploaded memory file can be retrieved and downloaded after their fatal wounds are repaired. The only restriction is they must have an upload on file with the company that’s less than forty-eight hours old, or the procedure doesn’t work.  

Arriving after the hostages’ lives have been claimed and their Restore Point backups voided, Trochinowska loses the culprit, who warns her something big is coming. The rooftop showdown combined with the future-noir look of the film reflects a lot of Blade Runner’s spirit, which is later met with a Minority Report sense of urgency and conspiracy that starts when the bodies of Restore Point researcher David (Matěj Hádek) and his wife are found among the victims.  

Trochinowska’s investigation brings her to The Restoration Institute, the conglomerate behind memory restoration points. The look tells us everything we need to know. The open space and architecture drive the effect of a modern-day tech company. Still, though their glass entrances suggest transparency, it isn’t hard to determine that something’s off at the Institute. Or that its CEO, Rohan (Karel Dobrý), is trying to hide something.

OVer a man's shoulder a newspaper informs us of the death of a prominent man in Restore Point

Managing reporters’ questions about the death of their researcher with ease, Rohan’s evasiveness about the company’s business venture comes on the hinges of the company’s privatization announcement. The Institute stands to make a boatload by offering a premium service versus the current free model provided through the country’s tax system, having customers pay them to initiate Restore Point auto-backups via subscription. 

River of Life believes the Restore Point process is morally reprehensible and unnatural. For the last few years, the group has initiated attacks against the tech company, one of which claimed the life of Trochinowska’s husband and fueled her vendetta against stopping them. A setup seems obvious when the Institute says they’ve been hacked and provides a name, Viktor Toffer (Milan Ondrík), as a lead suspect, hoping that Trochinowska’s biases lead to a shoot-first ask questions later outcome. However, when David, the dead researcher, resurfaces, having found a way to restore beyond the two-day limitation, he throws a wrench in the works by becoming Trochinowska’s partner in her investigation. 

The world of Restore Point is visually stunning, hitting many notes that would have Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner DP nodding his head affirmatively throughout. The film incorporates many visual special effects on a very high level, many of which are on the verge of being tangible, the foundation for any approachable sci-fi story.

A vehicle approaches a virtual barrier that reads Crime Scene in Restore Point

However, the aesthetic only takes the audience so far. Though the technical end offers a lot of detail, production design, cinematography, effects, and even the actors, the story is as redundant as it gets. Sci-fi and mystery lovers alike will figure out whodunnit almost immediately because the movie plays like many we’ve seen in the genre before. Detangling the labyrinth of why becomes the motivation to continue watching. The performers excellently deliver a degree of ambiguity surrounding their roles in Restore Point’s opera, though, while engaging, audiences will likely not leave fully satisfied by the film’s ending.  

Restore Point effectively questions our trust in the legitimacy of tech billionaires and their companies when they insist they’re doing the right thing. The right thing for who? While tech services can provide entertainment and necessity, the line gets muddied regarding the benefits of the customer against paying a company that could be reaping more than just a fee. From harvesting metadata on our devices to sell in exchange for ad revenue to developing historically devastating company towns for employees, thereby buying homes and upping their prices in an area, who will draw the line when it comes to what these organizations aren’t allowed to do to our autonomy?

Amnesty International offered a dissenting opinion on the Supreme Court’s decision this past May, which balked at the increasing need for tech regulation. Pat de Brún, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech, stated:

Ultimately, we need proper regulation to protect human rights, including free expression, but also to hold Big Tech accountable for the severe harms that can result from the amplification of harmful content. From India to Ethiopia, and Brazil to the United States, Big Tech’s unregulated algorithms are optimised to maximise profit and engagement, which fans the flames of ethnic violence, disinformation and gross human rights violations.

A cloth made tunnel leads to a woman's face

Restore Point may not be a perfect film. Yet, like its inspiration Blade Runner, it will have people talking about the ethical and moral implications of an industry that fans the flames of disinformation that helps destabilize nations. Robert Hloz’s film permeates themes that remind me of Jonathan Nolan’s Westworld series or Alex Garland’s Devs. These programs show little control an ordinary person has in the David v Goliath battle against major tech companies.

As I stated at the start, I consider the past when watching these futuristic settings because without knowing history, we’re doomed to repeat it. Right now, we have little to no representation in technical oversight, which allows these corporations to remain lawless, turning us against each other algorithmically, sparking divisive notions of civil unrest, and facilitating uprisings while making a profit.  

With the conversations we’re now having surrounding AI and how it can be as useful a tool as it is a dangerous one, Restore Point speaks to the Frankenstein-esque monster tech has become (even visually providing a scene in the film that parallels James Whale’s reanimation scene). It asks, Is it better to leave it alone or nurture it? I know what the Frankenstein monster would say about that. 

Restore Point played as a part of The Fantasia International Film Festival on July 24. The film will be released in the Czech Republic in September. A North American release date has not yet been set.  

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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