The fear of technology has always been with us as long as technology has existed. What if I’m shocked to death by this new electric light bulb of Edison’s? What if robots become intelligent? What if technology turns on us one day? Many films have come into being to answer such questions. A new one has appeared from Florida filmmaker Fred Rabbath to answer a slightly different question: How would we live without technology?
The short film, “Disconnected” is the most ambitious Fred Rabbath YouTube film to date. Considering his low-to-no-budget philosophy, what he has been able to accomplish here is very noteworthy.
We begin with a view of the world, and an impassioned announcer ranting against the president’s decision to hit the “kill switch” and stop all technology in the United States, for reasons of his own. Cellphones do not work. Radios and TV are dead. The Internet cannot be accessed.
What happens next is something akin to what we have seen on news reports during a disastrous apocalypse such as Hurricane Katrina – looting, fires, and mayhem. People loading their cars and abandoning their homes. Fear and violence in the streets.
In the midst of all this, we come upon a scene of a solitary man, Mikey (played by Owen Provencher), alone against gigantic forces. He sets his jaw and goes to work, gathering supplies and allies, winning some over and losing some. Regardless of any setbacks, he continues forward, in a quest to get back home to his parents and find safety.
On the way towards his goal, which he aims to win at all costs, he meets a drunken preacher on the road, who is the “true, wise friend” in disguise. He warns Mikey to “wake up” to the human cost of where his path may take him. Mikey ignores the preacher (played with uncomfortable zeal by Art Wallace) and continues forward.
The desperate circumstances and lack of communications breeds fear and violence in Fred Rabbath’s nightmarish apocalyptic post-world. Mikey sees his share of this fear, but nothing will stop him. Finally, he comes home again, only to discover the tragic results of the seeds he has sown in fear and desperation. The violence he commits in the name of survival reaches much, much farther than he intends.
Fred Rabbath’s story holds many parallels to other literature-as-parable works, particularly with the story of The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Even the name of the main character, Mikey, evokes an image of a child, like the children lost on the island who must survive. Mikey does his best in a terrible situation, without realizing where the actions of his darker nature will lead him. He, like Ralph in Lord of the Flies, ends sobbing “- great shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body” over what has happened.
While such a scenario playing itself out in real life would be very unlikely, Fred Rabbath does manage to raise many disturbing questions: Is such a “kill switch” possible? How prepared are we to lose our cell phones and other communication devices that we have come to rely on so heavily? What would happen to a society where basic trust in government and each other is lost? Are we truly moving in such a direction as this?
Again, no one can argue about the visual look of a Fred Rabbath film. “Disconnected” is no exception, and even dares to ramp up the visuals even more than usual. Fred may have actually pioneered the YouTube “epic short film” genre with this new entry, as oxymoronic as that may sound. I am, in fact, feeling spoiled now for expecting so much from each and every new film he releases on YouTube, but I do. And I am seldom disappointed.
Despite his lack of even enough of a budget for donuts, he manages to gather some very impressive talent to help him express his vision. Owen Provencher and Art Wallace’s memorable scene together provides the hinge that the dramatic tension of the film turns on, and they do a good job in ramping up the fear and danger factor for scenes we see later. Everyone did well, but my favorite acting moments in the film were provided by Mikey’s mother and father (a fantastic performance by James M. McMurtry Jr. and Mary Moon) who were just as lost in the fear and the uncertainty as Mikey, and who also chose to follow their darker natures as he did.
Although some of Fred Rabbath’s dialogue in past films has not been the best, there has been great improvement in this film. Of particular note is the outraged “shock jock” that begins and ends the movie, as the modern “Greek chorus” of sorts that so appropriately frames the film. Kudos to Woody Hayes for a convincing performance.
“Disconnected” is a mini-Lord of the Flies for a society ever dependent on technology for survival and communication. It is also, in a sense, a remake of the children’s story “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” from the villager’s perspective. It’s a high-concept film that shouldn’t be able to be made on less than someone would spend on a cellphone every month.
Yet, Fred Rabbath has done it…yet again.