Oct 25, 2023
Elijah Khodyrev, Vladislav Demchenko
Writer/director Igor Federov crafts a terrific debut with The Choice, a tense, taut and well executed mystery thriller.
Taking inspiration from both the societal impact and creative restrictions of the pandemic, Federov is able to mine impressive payoffs from an almost one-man show in a nearly one-room setting.
The one man is Matvey (Elijah Khodyrev), and the room is where he is set up as a nighttime call center operator for Russia’s Frount Bank. It is the near future, when massive unemployment and numerous bank failures have spawned a new government via coup, but little relief for the struggling.
Matvey is accustomed to angry and irate callers, but Daniel (Vladislav Demchenko) is a different animal. His voice is calm but menacing. Daniel is watching Matvey at work, he’s watching Matvey’s family at home, and he has a laser target pointed squarely at Matvey’s head.
The demand? Right old wrongs by transferring money from the account of a V.I.P client.
The setup doesn’t exactly blaze new trails, but the ways Federov consistently rises to its inherent challenges make the film an engaging and satisfying ride. The action here is all tech and talk, but through creative shot selection, crisp editing and precise sound design, Federov builds palpable tension around headsets, computer screens, digital switchboards, and voices on the line.
And, as Matvey tries to buy time and seek help, Federov’s script reveals secrets that slyly shift the balance of power while deepening our investment in predator as well as prey.
At just 77 minutes, The Choice might seem a bit brisk, but the story never feels slight. Federov resists the urge for padding he doesn’t need, cementing a debut feature that reaps plenty of benefits from the instincts of a smart new talent.