- Hans Weber
- December 1, 2023
‘Restore Point’ movie review: dazzling Czech sci-fi film showcases a futuristic Prague
A detective hunts for a murderer in a futuristic city where victims van be brought back to life in Restore Point (Bod obnovy), which premiered at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and is now playing in Prague cinemas (and with English subtitles at Kino Světozor).
Restore Point is billed as the first Czech science fiction film in more than 40 years, and it lives up to the hype. Set in a not-so-distant future where the dead can be re-animated from a recent backup – as long as they can pay for it – director Robert Hloz (who co-wrote the screenplay with Tomislav Čečka and Zdeněk Jecelín) doesn’t just give his film a sheen of sci-fi window dressing, but fully immerses us in a breathtaking vision of a tangible future world.
In Prague, 2041, not everyone is down with the idea of being able to cheat death, and a terrorist cell called the River of Life has been staging public executions in protest. In Restore Point‘s dynamite opening scene, renegade cop Em Trochinowska (a stoic Andrea Mohylová) chases down a River of Life member who has just executed multiple victims after their titular backups had expired; there’s a two-day window for the downloaded mind to be able to reanimate the deceased body without complications.
Em has a personal interest in bringing River of Life to justice: her husband, now confined to a holographic memory, was one of their previous victims. But her impulsive tactics lead to the suspect’s death, resulting in a talking-to from her Captain (Jan Vlasák) and Europol agent Mansfeld (Václav Neužil) taking over her investigation.
The case soon has two more victims: David Kurlstat, head researcher at the Institute behind the restore point technology, and his wife Kristina; tragically, both were left without a recent backup. When David (Matěj Hádek) suddenly shows up from a six-month-old restore, he’ll only talk to Em. But can she trust him, or was he involved in a deeper conspiracy?
Restore Point‘s visual presentation and production design are the star of the show here, with Prague’s real-world backdrops augmented by computer-generated technology and futuristic skyscrapers (there’s no way the city signs off on those zoning permits in the next two decades). Brutalist real-world backdrops like the Kotva department store and Prague Congress Centre are cannily utilized to bring Hloz’s vision of a dystopian future to tangible (and budget-friendly) life.
There are also some playful bits of future technology, like a police drone that scans buildings for movement, a man who communicates through LED lights in his black teeth, and Harry Potter-style newspapers that have apparently brought print back to life (that might be harder to believe than re-animating the corpses). And the concept of a restore point, too, lends itself to some memorable sequences, such as a group of men in an underground club playing Russian roulette for fun, knowing they’ll be re-animated if they lose.
But as Em and David follow the clues and connect the dots in order to solve this murder mystery, chasing down a prime suspect (Milan Ondrík) and running afoul of Institute head Rohan (Karel Dobrý), Restore Point settles into the familiar tracks of a well-worn detective story. And we can’t help but feel that an opportunity has been lost.
Given the premise, you can imagine a kind of high-concept story in which the detective keeps getting killed and re-animated as she gets closer to solving the case, and has to re-trace her path after having her memory continually wiped. But instead, Hloz and his co-writers deliver the same detective movie plot that we’ve seen countless times before. The filmmakers have accomplished the hard part in creating this breathtaking world, but the story they tell lacks that kind of innovative ambition.
But while Restore Point may not have the storytelling élan to match its visuals, it’s compelling enough in its own regard, and enough to hang some deeper thematic material. There’s a terrific parallel between the futuristic city and the rural locations the story leads, which mirror the anti-technology stance of some of its characters. And there’s thoughtful examination of what it really means to reset yourself to a days- or months-old version, and what you lose in the process.
Restore Point may not be the next Blade Runner (The Creator, opening in Prague cinemas this weekend, makes a run for that title), but its a runaway success for genre filmmaking in the Czech Republic, and holds up right next to similarly-themed Hollywood equivalents like In Time, Surrogates, or The Adjustment Bureau. Here’s hoping it opens the gates for a new wave in Czech filmmaking.