Simmering with neurotic emotions and surreal dream states, “The 4th Dimension” may have arrived a generation too late for the midnight circuit, but nevertheless touches subconscious nerves. Pic follows a quiet, introverted young man down an Alice-like rabbit hole of suppressed memories. Perhaps too much of the lad’s personal mystery is explained in the end, but the trip sustains a disturbing, somnambulistic mood that will attract fests and alt programmers.
Jack (Louis Morabito) ponders if “perhaps sleep is a doorway to the fourth dimension,” and opening images suggest that what follows may be induced by dreams. However, co-directors Tom Mattera and Dave Mazzoni are just as concerned with establishing Jack’s reality in the present (in a bric-a-brac stuffed antique shop where he fixes clocks and other contraptions) and the past (where a dazzling single-shot scene dramatizes in capsule form the boy’s sad life with his ill mom).
Young Jack is evidently a genius bored with standard schoolwork but also intent on pleasing mom (Karen Peakes). Sudden leaps back and forth in time — Mattera and Mazzoni are their own editors as well — create the effect of a life lived in a state of suspended animation, as well as a sense that Jack is now playing out an existence far below his original potential.
“The 4th Dimension” unfolds in a steadily slower and creepy rhythm, tracing what looks like Jack’s mental unraveling, leaving one to afterward piece together the various pieces of Jack’s fractured consciousness.
Coda, spelling out a Philadelphia mental institution’s history and legacy, seems to be a wrong choice as a capper, applying a literal and non-fiction veneer to an expressionist nightmare.
Morabito maintains an effectively buttoned-up perf until nearly the finish, at just about the same time that pic shifts from lenser Daniel Watchulonis’ eerie, high-contrast black-and-white imagery to color. Nathan Kalushner’s sets are claustrophobia-inducing worlds unto themselves.