‘See you on the other side…’ is a repeated line featured in Mackenzie G Mauro‘s arty sci-fi indie; that might have made a less cryptic title for this film. But Exposure 36 works too; there are 36 exposures on your old-fashioned camera spool, and we see each picture as taken by drug-dealing photographer Cam (Charles Ouda). Cam is navigating a painfully familiar New York in its cups; this film was shot during the pandemic, and there’s grim, moving shots of empty streets with the lights of on-call ambulances blinking in the background.
So Exposure 36 reflects our times, but as good sci-fi should, takes things further; the world is set to end in three days, and Cam has his work cut out supplying drugs that may help his customers go out with a bang or potentially end it all; their motives aren’t always clear. One of Cam’s customers goes missing, and while he gets high and high again on his own supply, he reluctantly engages with the missing man’s sister, Katie (Jennifer Leigh Whitehead).
Writer and director Mackenzie G Mauro’s film is very ambitious, and demands a lot of the viewer, but concentration is rewarded; this is a complex story with a sombre, resigned mood that echoes work like Don McKellar’s Last Night. And while thrill-seekers should be forewarned, Exposure 36 does rises to a dynamic climactic shot that makes it clear that the apocalypse is now. It comes after a climax that’s more conventional than might be expected, but at least demonstrates that the film-makers want to tell an original story that still satisfies rather than mystifies.
Exposure 36 combines photography, drugs and detective tropes with considerable skill; it’s a strong indie that should be seen for those seeking the next Christopher Nolan or Denis Villeneuve. The whole film has a great, carefully thought out look, and for once, the visuals are very much in sync with a trippy story that zeroes in on our anxieties about the past and future alike.
Exposure 36 is available on VOD streaming platforms May 10th, 2022