Muddled NSA Thriller ‘Tentacle 8’ Will Leave You With Too Many Questions


Writer-director John Chi knows the exact chronological order of events in his debut film, Tentacle 8, a thoroughly muddled thriller warning us that we should be very, very afraid of the National Security Agency. He knows why subplots about shoplifting, torture, and a corporate shakedown and covert missions in Islamabad and South Asia are all explored in some detail and then abruptly dropped, never or barely re-emerging.

He knows why he instructed his cast of strong to excellent television actors (including Brett Rickaby as an NSA case worker/crackerjack decoder with seemingly every unscrupulous government and military body on his trail, and Amy Motta as his alternately sweet and duplicitous CIA agent girlfriend) to play their roles in as dour and uninvolving a fashion as possible.

He knows why he willfully refrains from any exposition for three-fourths of the film’s running time, only to resort, toward the end, to lengthy monologues that only convolute matters further. Why the only joke in the entire movie — and not a funny one — concerns a sumo wrestler jumping out of a car. Why he favors camera trickery that went out of style at least a decade ago (chief example: every top-secret meeting is shot in dizzying, circle-around-the-table style). Why he’s so obsessed with old books, powered-off televisions, and stale 9-11 conspiracy theories.

He knows all this, and we don’t, and we’re probably better off that way.

Tentacle 8

Written and directed by John Chi

Opens June 18, Anthology Film Archives

Available on demand

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