The world of Jared Drake’s feature debut, Visioneers, sits somewhere between the ugly futures of Brazil and Idiocracy, leaning less fantastical than the former and less goofy than the latter, while putting across a message they share: Things are getting bleaker and stupider, and something should probably be done about it. The film, which played festivals last year but failed to secure wider theatrical distribution, stars Zach Galifianakis—a newly minted star, thanks to The Hangover—as a cog working at the world’s largest company, the Jeffers Corporation. In an immediate cue about Visioneers’ tone, the Jeffers logo is revealed to be buildings in the shape of a middle finger, and employees greet each other by stoically flipping the bird.
But for the most part, Visioneers only laughs to keep from crying. Galifianakis conveys a deep sadness from the start: Even though he’s worked his way up to “level 3 tunt” (a nonsense word for a certain type of factory worker) and has a McMansion, a wood-paneled minivan, and a wife (Arrested Development’s Judy Greer), he’s miserable. Society is no help, either. The Jeffers Corporation values productivity above all else, an Oprah-like character has beaten his wife into smiling submission with platitudes involving butter as a marital aid, and the medical community decries dreams as a sign of impending explosion, literally. The America of Visioneers is facing a crisis of pent-up aggression and creativity, and its citizens—including one of Galifianakis’ officemates—are disappearing in blasts of blood and viscera. There’s even a telethon about explosion awareness, one of many TV shows in the Visioneers universe that scan like barely exaggerated versions of today’s reality.
Galifianakis’ only hope of escape is a recently fired co-worker (Mia Maestro) with whom he’d had a telephone flirtation: When he heads to “undeveloped area 237” to find her, the movie comes alive with color and hope. Unlike Idiocracy, this “world built of peace and plastic” seems to offer some sort of escape for those willing to grasp at it. Government-mandated devices—manufactured, of course, by the Jeffers Corporation—that replace depression with mindless happiness are easy to remove, and Galifianakis finds that a couple of physical tantrums, delivered in some of Visioneers’ funniest scenes, actually help him relieve some stress.
While the movie does become ham-fisted—Greer eventually wakes up from her consumerist stupor and gives a speech about how the people who have dreams are better than her—it does so in service of a tricky, mostly successful tone. Galifianakis’ performance is remarkable, too: Though he’s one of the most naturally funny actors around, he disappears into blank depression while always hinting at some sort of clouded passion. It’s the kind of performance and the kind of story that will almost inevitably find a cult to save it from obscurity.
Key features: A behind-the-scenes featurette, announcements from the Jeffers Corporation, and on-set scenes with a funny but minor character, Mack Luster.