Guilt is an extremely powerful feeling. It’s capable of engendering anger, sadness and extreme self-loathing. Guilt can destroy a person, forming a wedge between everything they care about and what they think they care about. It also happens to be the central theme of Director Dan Bush’s latest film, The Reconstruction of William Zero. The film is about William Blakely (Conal Byrne), a cutting-edge geneticist, who wakes up after an accident with fragmented memories. He re-learns his identity and his past from his mysterious and socially inept twin brother. Overtime, he comes to realize he was responsible for the death of his son, causing a significant rift between him and his estranged wife, Jules (Amy Siemetz). While trying to reconnect with his wife, William realizes that his memories are not his own; that his identity might not even be his own.
Bush, having proven himself quite the talent with directing films like The Signal and Ghost of Old Highways, tells a story that is both intelligent and fulfilling, managing to incorporate several strong performances that ground the material. At the forefront, William Zero is science-fiction/drama wrapped in layers of mysteries and conspiracies. Don’t go in thinking this is a M. Night Shyamalan twist-fest. The film’s revelations are satisfying, providing just enough explanation to move the plot forward without wasting precious screen time explaining the complexity of the narrative. If anything, the film’s science-fiction element is more of simple backdrop, allowing the character drama onscreen to take center stage.
Among the cast, Byrne, who also produced and wrote the film, is the standout. His role as William is both tragic and horrifically monstrous. He’s able to play a loving husband and father, a naïve victim and a vengeful sociopath. It’s the kind of role that can truly show the range of an actor, and it’s his performance that allows the film to succeed as much as it does. Revealing too much about his character could spoil the film’s biggest twists, but rest assured that it’s a role you’ll be discussing long after the credits role and in the months to come. Siemetz adds a layer of sensitivity to the film, letting Jules be a beacon of hope for William. She doesn’t play a character that’s bitter or even angry. There’s a well of emotion always emitting from Jules, making her instantly likeable and relatable from her first appearance onscreen. Additionally, William Zero moves at a stellar pace, wasting no time drawing out the central mystery, letting the actors do their thing uninterrupted by the film’s twists and turns.
If there’s one disappointment about the film, it’s that some of the supporting cast is underused. Melissa McBride (The Walking Dead) and AJ Bowen (You’re Next) co-star as corporate agents trying to protect the secrets and property of the genetics company that William works for. They’re simply present to be obstacles for William, raising the stakes of what is already a pretty terrifying situation. Their performances are in no way bad, but they’re just there to move the story forward. It’s briefly hinted that McBride’s character is a little more complex, even sensitive, during a particularly intense scene where William is being interrogated. As Walking Dead fans know, McBride’s Carol is one of, if not the most well developed and dynamic character on the show. Allowing her to have more of a presence could have added to an already great film. However, William Zero is Byrne and Siemetz’s story and the focus for the most part should be on them, but giving a little extra screen time to a few of the supporting cast members couldn’t have hurt in the long run.
In the end, William Zero is about two competing forces in the world – love and fear- and the story is told from these opposing perspectives. On the one hand, we see the story through the eyes of an innocent who, mesmerized by an enigmatic and beautiful woman, has fallen in love and will do anything to save her. On the other hand we see the story through the eyes of an outcast, desperate for a sense of belonging, driven to revenge and murder. One decides he is Human, the other decides he is not. This is a story about belonging, identity and fate. It asks the basic question: Has our idea of fate been replaced by genetics? If that is true, and we are defined by our DNA, then what does it mean to be a human being?
The Reconstruction of William Zero is now in select theatres and available on VOD.