In 2015, director and writer Travis Milloy raised $12,150 on Kickstarter to make a science fiction movie. The result is a sci-fi film featuring one thing that most movies with ten times that budget often lack: style.
Drawing on themes found in many of the biggest sci-fi features of the last decade, Infinity Chamber (released in 2016) jumps between trippy concepts like isolated conversations with artificial intelligence to living within dreams with ease, twisting these worn-out tropes into something new. The result is an entertaining game of cat-and-mouse unlike anything you’ve seen before.
At the center of Infinity Chamber are Frank Lerner (a prisoner played by Christopher Soren Kelly) and Howard (his jailer, voiced by Jesse D. Arrow). Whoever designed Frank’s prison cell loved minimalism — it’s all metal and soft light, at least until it becomes something different. Frank claims his memory is gone, and Howard lets him know that’s not a Howard problem. Howard is just there to make sure Frank is safe and secure.
Quite literally taking place inside a mystery box, Infinity Chamber doles out its world in dribs and drabs. There is a government organization called the ISN and a rebellion against them called The Alliance. Frank and Howard appear to be caught in the middle. Howard makes these early scenes fascinating: he’s polite and warm to a fault, taking a tone that calls to mind a friendly clerk at the DMV.
Two characters forced into a situation with radically different stakes often makes for compelling viewing, and watching Frank get stumped again and against by Howard’s polite bureaucracy is worth watching. Stuck with each other, they start to form a friendship of sorts.
Not all of Infinity Chamber’s twists work: one big early reveal is supposed to come when Frank understands that Howard is actually a robot, although this seems to have been pretty obvious from the start. But after firmly establishing this twist, the Chamber moves into its next phase: figuring out if Frank can escape.
Smaller sci-fi projects, like The History of Time Travel and Infinity Chamber, can work best when they put all their eggs in one basket, confident enough that any similarity to other movies (in this case Inception, Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and others) will be ignored in favor of what’s going on right now, on screen.
The cell came first in making Infinity Chamber. Before Milloy had financing or even a script for the movie, he started work on the set. “I basically rented an industrial space and I started building the set because I knew that would be the most expensive part of this movie was the prison cell,” he told a local news source in his Colorado home. This is where Infinity Chamber’s DIY heart lives. Spending time in the cell, learning Howard’s various tricks and self-defense mechanisms, is fascinating.
A spinning, ventilation-style device built in Frank’s room seems to be forcing him to live out a dream of meeting a barista, the two engaging in some light flirting before he is captured by the agents who eventually will bring him to this cell. These flirty dreams lack the chemistry of the Frank-Howard scenes but offer some variety.
There’s also some nice location work in Infinity Chamber, with Milloy trying to “make the movie as big as possible without having money,” he told the local paper in 2017. Snowy mountains and stark deserts play into some crucial scenes in Infinity Chamber.
But the cell is the key. When Frank learns about his bathroom, for instance, the movie takes on a dark humor that feels like an episode of The Office set in Abu Ghraib. As Frank and Howard keep talking to each other and bonding, it becomes clear they’re sizing the other one up in hopes of finding a weakness. They take their turns acting and reacting to each other’s challenges.
It likely will not shock you to learn that neither Frank nor Howard are all they seem. Both carry secrets with them, and at times the twists are confusing.
But the twists carry with them bigger questions: is Frank free? Is there a government at all? How extensively can Howard fool Frank? There aren’t solid answers to any of the questions, but Infinity Chamber is at its best when it keeps asking them.