Some people go to Fantastic Fest to focus on horror films; me, I grab the rare opportunity to see animated movies made for grownups. I especially like animation that looks and feels a little different than the mainstream -- for example, the rotoscoped look of A Scanner Darkly. Metropia touches on some of the same themes as A Scanner Darkly, but this animated feature looks like nothing else you've seen onscreen lately.
Metropia is set in Europe in 2024, in a grim future where natural resources have dried up, financial collapse has left most people struggling, and the biggest corporation in the world is Trexx, which runs a giant Metro system (subway) all across the continent. Roger (Vincent Gallo), a Swedish call-center worker, is considered paranoid for worrying about whether Trexx, and the Metro, are involved in some sort of oppressive conspiracy. When his bike is broken and he's forced to ride the underground train, he has to fight a voice in his head that doesn't quite sound like his own, as well as the urge to follow his dream girl, Nina (Juliette Lewis), whose face adorns popular shampoo ads and bottles everywhere.
That's barely the beginning of the Metropia storyline, but I enjoyed the plot twists and turns so much that I'd hate to deny anyone else that satisfaction. Although director Tarik Saleh says his primary inspiration was Franz Kafka, the characters, setting and visual details recall a number of other science-fiction and fantasy movies, such as Brazil, Dark City and just about anything adapted from Philip K. Dick.
The animated style is difficult to describe -- the people look oddly realistic at times, but have an artificial quality that meshes well with the general tone of the story. The colors are often muted, since so much of the film is set underground or in dark rooms. Every scene is so packed with interesting visual details that at times it feels almost overstimulating -- it may take more than one viewing to catch everything. Metropia is one of those movies where, after it ends, I want to watch the first half-hour again right away to see how all the pieces fit.
The voice talent is a good match for Metropia -- the actors aren't too recognizable, except perhaps for Juliette Lewis. Gallo and Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood), who voices Stefan, both strike the appropriate Everyman note for their characters without sounding too similar. Stellan Skarsgard (Alexander's father) carries a tone of dry malice as Trexx security head Ralph Parker, and Udo Kier injects strange but fitting humor into his role as corporate head Ivan Bahn.
Metropia lags a little at times, and some of the setup is hard to follow or to place into context until later. You have to be willing to be slightly mystified during the first part of the film, but the payoff is worthwhile. The combination of noir and dystopia is nothing new, but the unusual style and visual details help build suspense and interest and create a fascinating world to watch.