Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly and filmmakers gotta make movies, even in the midst of a global pandemic. That’s the main takeaway from Rick Dugdale’s directorial debut, shot during worldwide COVID lockdowns. Whether certain movies gotta be made is another matter entirely. Starring Anthony Hopkins, seemingly appearing from his own living room, as a mysterious tech entrepreneur named Finley Hart, Zero Contact doesn’t exactly make you nostalgic for the days you spent mostly on Zoom. In the production notes, director-producer Dugdale says, “We hope the time for this is … now.” Leaving aside the question of why the ellipses were necessary, it seems safer to say that the time for this is past.

This high-tech corporate thriller, seemingly shot entirely on Zoom and surveillance and cellphone cameras, is apparently desperate to prove its cutting-edge bona fides. Its marketing breathlessly informs us that it’s “the very first film being offered as an NFT on the Vuele platform and is also the very first feature film NFT.”

Zero Contact

The Bottom Line

For anyone who misses spending their days on Zoom.

Release date: Friday, May 27

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Chris Brochu, Aleks Paunovic, Veronica Ferres, Martin Stenmarck, TJ Kayama, Lilly Krug, James C. Burns

Director: Rick Dugdale

Screenwriter: Cam Cannon


Rated R,
1 hour 37 minutes

(This review will now pause so those of you who care about such things can take the opportunity to purchase the film’s NFT because, what the hell, it can’t be a worse investment than the stock market right now.)

Done? OK, where were we? Oh yes, we also learn that Zero Contact was shot in 17 countries, although why that should matter is debatable because the film is hardly an Around the World in 80 Days-style travelogue but rather an up-close-and-personal portrait of indoor rooms. When there’s a shot of someone’s backyard, it’s positively a thrill. Then there’s the notion that the sound mix apparently employs ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), although the only tingling viewers are likely to experience will come from the relief that occurs when the film’s over. Finally, there’s the idea that it represents a new genre, “remote footage” (as compared to “found footage”), which is something that really, really needs to be nipped in the bud.

That the film features a storyline of sorts seems almost an afterthought. It revolves around a video conference call engineered by Hart (think Elon Musk, only with actual charisma), who doesn’t let the fact that he’s dead prevent him from setting the plot in motion. The call features five people from various locations, one of whom is Finley’s estranged son, Sam (Chris Brochu). It seems that Finley, who had been ousted from his own company shortly before his death, is imploring them from beyond the grave to reactive the “Quantinuum Initiative,” which apparently involves teleportation, before the world ends. Or something like that. Let’s just say that “The machine runs on dark matter reactor” is one of the script’s more coherent lines.

The film isn’t entirely a talkfest. Very bad things happen to some of the online participants during the call thanks to mysterious intruders, possibly because they were upset at not being invited to participate (much like several of my relatives). Even more horrifyingly, every once in a while, the callers are put on hold and we’re subjected to repeated listenings of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” which represents the polar opposite of ASMR.

As Finley, Hopkins displays his usual magnetism, even taking the opportunity to play one of his own musical compositions on piano. He delivers alternately concerned and bemused monologues throughout, although his tendency to look almost anywhere other than directly into the camera is distracting. Still, it’s a pleasure to listen to him expound about such subjects as the mind-blowing effects of reading Aldous Huxley in that elegant voice.

Featuring no less than 10 minutes of end credits that include behind-the-scenes footage meant to impress us with just how complicated it was to put the project the together, Zero Contact is just the first installment of a trilogy, the other two parts of which are now filming. Would it be rude to point out that the vast majority of us have relievedly moved on from spending our days doing nothing but looking at screens?

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