Crowdfunding sites have proven a boon to independent filmmakers whose work might otherwise never reach a wide audience. Radio Free Albemuth, an ultra-low-budget Philip K. Dick adaptation filmed all the way back in 2007, is one such example; writer-director John Alan Simon finally turned to Kickstarter in 2013 to fund a theatrical and digital release after nearly seven years of movie limbo. That said, it’s easy to glean why this unapologetically niche film nearly died on the vine.
Albemuth is set in an alternate-reality California, where the country’s increasingly fascistic president keeps tabs on the population through a uniformed volunteer group named Friends of the American People. Fans of the author will recognize its autobiographical elements: Our heroes are a gruff science fiction writer named Phil (Shea Wigham) and his (only?) friend Nick (Jonathan Scarfe), who exhibits spiritual parallels to the real-life Dick when he begins receiving powerful visions from a mysterious source he calls VALIS.
The visions lead him to a record executive job in Los Angeles (here a pit of “subversive” elements contrasted with the clean-cut Berkeley), where he takes up with an earnest woman named Sylvia (Alanis Morissette), who’s experiencing similar visions.
Previous Dick adaptations, like Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, picked up his unruly imagination and ran wild with it; this one plays out as a fairly straightforward spiritual testimony laden with distracting special effects.
The actors, meanwhile, seem uniformly unable to raise their voices above a breathy monotone to deliver dialogue that’s either self-consciously expository or vaguely porn-y (“Grass makes me super horny.”)
In an alternate universe, this might be a cult hit; as it is, Albemuth will only be fun for diehards.