A mysterious man emerges from a sewer and takes a cab on M25. Soon he changes places with the driver. As the story progresses, this man, called Tomas Katz, continues to change places with other people (hence his nine lives). Alien, spirit, demon, whatever he is, he’s come to bring about the end of the world. He intends to achieve that by killing the Astral Child.
Constables everywhere start reporting absurd situations when Katz (Tom Fisher) arrives in London: whispering windows; underground stations completely disappearing; the Bank of England losing tons of money; children going crazy. And all society can do is set up an emergency broadcast with a group of clueless commentators to discuss what’s going on and what can be done.
Of course the Scotland Yard is already on the job, and the Chief Constable (Ian McNeice) is on top of things; and the fact that he’s blind and has mystical visions is only an advantage in this otherworldly crisis, since he’s sensed the Astral Child is dying and must be saved.
Director Ben Hopkins, a filmmaker unknown to me until I watched this film by mere chance, shows intelligence, humor and some originality in his approach to filmmaking. The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz blends end-of-the-world millennium anxieties with non-linear storytelling and dark humor, producing a film experience that should leave any fan of the absurd and the strange delighted. Hopkins shoots mostly in black-and-white, but he experiments with several textures: the image can go from clean black-and-white to the grainy, sooty feel of old silent movies; at one point he adds inter-titles. Some times he deliberately shoots things out of focus, and he even uses the old iris shot. Clearly a fan of classic cinema.
He’s also fond of manipulating the image. At one point Tomas Katz meets Dave, the guy who’s in charge of monitoring every public camera in London. Dave sits in a huge room with thousands of screens and he’s bored. So Katz gives him the power to erase whatever he wants from the pictures. And slowly Dave begins erasing reality: pigeons, cars, skirts, clouds, buildings, people, everything starts disappearing. My favorite example is when he erases cars and we can still see people seated in mid-air, holding a non-existent wheel. Hopkins keeps playing with image and viewers’ expectations until the end.
Tom Fisher and Ian McNeice give solid performances, with McNeice stealing the show as the implausible blind constable with supernatural powers. Unlikely as he may sound, McNeice grounds him so well in humanity that he becomes a very likeable character.
The movie has a disjointed, episodic feel. It’s also clear that Hopkins shot this movie on a very short budget, but I think that is only an advantage, giving it a decadent, trashy feel that suits the end of the world. You don’t really need money to make a great movie, just imagination and resourcefulness. And even with its apparent lack of professionalism, The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz is still funnier, smarter and tenser than many apocalyptic, catastrophic but bland disaster movies.
Director: Ben Hopkins
Screenplay: Ben Hopkins, Rob Cheek, Thomas Browne
Cast: Ian McNeice, Tom Fisher
Runtime: 87 mins