The Heart Machine

Posted by Joel Copling on November 3, 2014

Whatever its benefits, Internet-driven communication will always have the drawback of being inherently impersonal. Don't misunderstand me: "The Heart Machine" is only broadly a cautionary tale of such practices. Writer/director Zachary Wigon smartly focuses upon the characters both using a specific type of communication over the Web (in this case, the video-chat function of Skype) and being used by it. The former is clearly a lost, lonely soul, convincing herself that she must fabricate things about her life on a whim. The latter is just as lonely, the shot on which the film opens one that documents his indifferent reactions to the cavorting figures around him in a nightclub.

This attention to character is what endears us to both Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil, who really needs to be in every movie), the abuser, and Cody (John Gallagher, Jr.), the used. They met over Skype, both feeling the need to connect to someone and hitting it off almost immediately. The origins of their relationship are revealed over a series of delicately-placed flashbacks that work quite well to insert us into the motivations of these characters. Not that all of them are easy to empathize with: Virginia trawls through Blendr, another of the myriad online social networking Websites, and finds guys with whom to hook up in New York City, where she and Cody live, for meaningless conversation and drinks.

The seed of doubt is planted in Cody when he begins to pay close attention to the ambient noises surrounding Virginia, who claims she is currently living in Berlin for six months, during their calls (Sirens wail in the background but sound nothing like those of German polizei, dogs bark in the background and remind rather uncannily of those in one of the many parks in NYC). Cody becomes obsessed with finding Virginia (What he will do when he does is an uncertainty etched into the betrayal so evident behind his calm facade), even tracking down a woman (Libby Woodbridge) who is tagged in a photo with Virginia and the barista (David Call) of Virginia's favorite coffee shop.

It is no spoiler to reveal that a major confrontation happens by the end of "The Heart Machine," and it is performed with ultimate compassion. The alternative would either be too apologetic or too mopey, and Wigon wisely strikes a note somewhere between the two extremes. Gallagher and Sheil are both excellent, sharing an adorable sort of chemistry, all the more unfortunately based in a lie. That lie offers a solid emotional core in which to be invested when it comes to "The Heart Machine," a tense, affecting study of the perils of curiosity and a Web-based relationship between two lost individuals. One of them has made her bed, and she will have to lie in it. After all, he can't exactly join her.

Film Information

John Gallagher, Jr. (Cody), Kate Lyn Sheil (Virginia), David Call (Dale), Louisa Krause (Jessica), RJ Brown (Harry), Halley Wegryn Gross (Sarah), Libby Woodbridge (Caitlyn), Sam Quartin (Virginia's Doppelganger).

Directed and written by Zachary Wigon.

No MPAA rating.

85 minutes.

Released in select cities on October 24, 2014.