Despite expensive anomalies like The Matrix and Inception, which found huge audiences for densely scripted plotlines, studios still regularly hand Michael Bay the annual GDP of French Guiana.
Science fiction is hard, but making fart jokes with giant robots is easy. It’s the corporate equivalent of having Eggos for dinner. Altered States of Plaine, like indies Pi and Primer, harbors ambition that towers over its super-saver discount budget.
Director Nick Gaglia hides the actual rough edges of the production with the artistic rough edges of handheld cameras, slow shutter speeds, and tight, low-angle close-ups that favor his charismatic actors. The transition between the blue-grays of the city and the saturated yellows of the desert are as disorienting as the main character’s problem. Whenever Emanuel Plaine (George Gallagher, who co-wrote the script) falls asleep, his body teleports to a random point on Earth, raptured away without clothing or possessions.
In the film’s opening moments, he awakens naked on a New York subway, screaming in full panic, just as confused as the audience. During an apartment B&E to steal clothing, he saves a young prostitute named Violet (Kether Donohue) from a violent john, and eventually convinces her to drive him to Maryland to plead for help from a physics professor whose work entails the teleportation of photons.
The script, only occasionally clumsy, errs on the side of mystery, leaving open the question of whether Emanuel is insane or transhuman until the final moments.