Part video installation, part earnest science tract, novice helmer Andrei Severny’s “Condition” has moments of interest but seems uncertain what kind of film it wants to be. Taking place following an unspecified national emergency that could be a terrorist attack, the pic follows a sound therapist and her traumatized charge as they escape from Gotham into the Maine hinterland. Severny is intrigued by the science of sound and its uses in treating PTSD but this fascination hampers his ability to construct a tight feature. Producer and co-editor Amir Naderi’s name should help “Condition” get bookings at indie-centric fests.
“Sound to me is like touch at a distance,” states sound researcher Mary Taggert (Jessica Kaye), traveling north with her patient Alaska (Antonella Lentini). Following a disaster, possibly in New York (the specter of 9/11, though not specified, is never far away), therapists were instructed to take a patient and drive to safety, but empty gas stations have forced Taggert to stop along a barren stretch of Maine coastline. Alaska, mute, is coping not merely with the current emergency but with something more personally harrowing in her past.
Severny withholds details in order, one suspects, to universalize the trauma, yet it’s impossible to escape the feeling that he’s using 9/11 as the benchmark, reinforced by shots of a generic skyscraper with the camera racing up its side. A montage of images featuring cars, flames and sirens, superimposed onto Alaska’s face, plays against the helmer’s desire for subtlety, though it’s possible to imagine this and other sequences projected on a gallery wall.
Similarly, scenes of Alaska lying down in a white laboratory, listening to various sounds played for their therapeutic value, could be fascinating in a museum space with a superb stereo system, but here the sequences simply don’t feel involving. Severny is a proselytizer for the psychology of sound (the production notes are full of solemn discussions of the science behind the pic’s concept), yet the theme needed to be more strongly wedded to a solid story or divorced from narrative altogether.
Alaska’s initial obsessive reworking of a rope with knots is quickly dropped, only to reappear at the end, and her very name is unfortunate, likely to induce titters when Taggert shouts “Alaska!” across the Maine wilderness. Generally soft-edged visuals are so robbed of tonalities as to appear almost monochrome, further pushing the sense of a “serious work” treating a “serious topic.”