Director – Tate Young, Screenplay/Created by Jim Munroe, Producers – Anthony Cortese & Sean Lerner, Photography – Tony Edgar, Music – Adrian Ellis, Visual Effects – Barb Benoit & Mathew Borrett, Production Design – Marc Ngui. Production Company – Postopian Pictures/I09
Elysia White (Maxine DeSantos), David Straus (Simon DeSantos), Joanne Jansen (Tara), Kwame Kyei-Boateng (Lars), Jonathan Robbins (Uncle Bruce), Mandy May Cheetham (Katherine), Sarah Desouza-Coelho (Princess), Adrian Ellis (Geiss), Jordan Towes (Wells)
It is the year 2025. Just out of school, Maxine gets a job at the Aster*sk factory in the free economic zone in Hamilton, Ontario, wanting to help out her father who is making ends meet as a security guard while trying to pursue his interest as a graphic novelist. At the Aster*sk factory, they are engaged in making haptic cables – high-end neural plugs for online videogames. Maxine steals one of these and begins playing a game. The abilities learned in the virtual environment are also ones that allow a player to build up muscle memory and skills in the real world. Her father agrees to take a promotion but becomes strangely detached afterwards – only to then die in mysterious circumstances. Maxine believes herself responsible for his death, having placed pills in his food in the hope of revitalising him, only to afterwards find they conflicted with his heart medication. This now brings her under surveillance by the insurance assessors.
I was first introduced to science-fiction writer Jim Munroe with his film Ghosts With Shit Jobs (2012). Munroe is a Canadian writer who had previously published several novels and graphic novels, as well as made the science-fiction film Infest Wisely (2007) that was released as a series of webisodes. Ghosts With Shit Jobs was made on a miniscule $4000 budget but looked far more impressive than that.
Haphead was originally made as web series, produced in conjunction with the Gawker-owned fandom site I09.com. It consisted of eight episodes of around 7-10 minutes apiece, which were then packaged together and edited into a feature film. Jim Munroe writes the script, while the film/web series is directed by Tate Young, who was also co-director of one of the segments of Ghosts With Shit Jobs. Haphead is made in much the same way that Ghosts With Shit Jobs was. The film is made on a micro-budget (the Kickstarter raised CA$30,000) and ingeniously uses the contemporary world to stand in for a minimally-changed future world. The low budget is particularly noticeable when it comes to the cheap visuals uses to represent the immersive VR videogames, slightly better when it comes to Sarah Desouza-Coelho’s personalised drone (although the film is never particularly dependent on these effects).
In both films, Jim Munroe writes less a linear plot than the story takes place in a series of episodes – Ghosts With Shit Jobs was divided into four different stories whereas Haphead is more traditional in that it has continuing characters. That said, the focus is as much the characters on the periphery and the plot often wanders away from the main one it started out with – as it begins, Elysia White steals a haptic cable and becomes a gamer, learning real world skills in the process, but this gets forgotten about by around the halfway point. Right at the end, Munroe sees the need for a more traditional plot to wrap everything up and adds a not-entirely-convincing twist involving clones.
Still where Haphead does work is in exactly the same places that Ghosts With Shit Jobs did – in Jim Munroe’s fascinating ability to litter the background with small details or show pieces of technology that suggest a future world that is often very different to our own. David Straus comes home where Elysia White has left him some dinner and uses a portable microwave scanner to heat it up; Straus goes the entire way through the film with the word ‘Outcast’ tattooed on his forehead – why, we are given no idea, it is just something taken for granted; in another fascinating scene, Elysia White, Joanne Jansen, and Kwame Kyei-Boateng go to the mall but find that the door’s automated system is barring them from entry because it has scanned them and deduced they lack the desired income level, while we also see that the Afro-Canadian Kwame is being profiled for melanin levels.