What’s a filmmaker to do when he has more ideas than one movie could possibly handle? For director Ivan Sen, his new film, Expired, has so much narrative ambition and style to spare that it creates a chaotic viewing experience for the audience. Sometimes that could be a good thing — like a fast roller coaster ride where you don’t see when the next turn is coming.
But unfortunately for Expired, the lackluster story and its numerous subplots bog down what could have been a thought-provoking sci-fi thriller.
Shot in Hong Kong and Australia, Expired takes place in a futuristic city where Jack (Ryan Kwanten) wanders the desolate and narrow streets alone at night. He works as a mercenary, but it isn’t a job that he performs with any great ease. Jack is weary, appearing beaten down by the life he’s led and the loneliness that consumes him.
One night, he goes into a club where one of the performers catches his eye. In an alluring performance, Jillian Nguyen plays April, who is apprehensive about connecting with Jack. But he keeps returning to the club, and she eventually begins to recognize him. Their relationship becomes the focus of the film, as the characters spend more time together, even meeting outside of the club.
Expired’s examination of two souls trying to connect certainly isn’t novel, but it does hit some affecting melancholic notes against Sen’s moody atmosphere. Jack and April’s storyline is paired with a plot thread involving an unexplained disease deteriorating Jack’s body. He seeks the guidance of Dr. Bergman (Hugo Weaving), who he hopes can shed light on what is happening to his health.
A sci-fi film with a noir aesthetic, Expired presents an interesting if uneven visual juxtaposition as its anti-hero strolls around its futuristic streets. We learn more about Jack through an excessive amount of voiceover narration, and when he recalls his past, the movie shifts to black-and-white. Kwanten’s monotone delivery becomes tiresome after a while, though, delivering heavy-handed lines like, “A life isn’t worth what it used to be, but it’s enough to get by.”
The sci-fi angle is where the movie falters most. It introduces a world run by machines and doesn’t provide much insight into what that means for the characters. In some ways, it recalls Alex Garland’s stunning 2015 debut Ex Machina, which explored similar terrain, but Expired fails to capture what made Garland’s people-versus-machines thriller so effective. Unlike Garland’s film, Expired lacks focus, especially when the movie shifts between sci-fi and romance.
Sen’s big ideas should elevate Expired, but they only confuse it. The movie feels as if it’s told in halves, and when the screenplay (also by Sen) tries to intertwine them, everything feels a bit convoluted and overstuffed, which stifles the emotional payoff. Jack and April’s relationship could have made for a simpler and, more importantly, cohesive movie if they just walked-and-talked through their pasts. But everything else Sen includes feels shoehorned to give the film an added weight that only drags it down.
As unwieldy as it is, this movie shouldn’t be outright dismissed; the writer-director is capable of producing some compelling ideas here. Ultimately, Expired proves to be the type of frustrating movie where you see all the right ingredients, but none of it comes together in a satisfying way.
Expired releases March 18 in select theaters, on digital, and on-demand.