Vortex (2001, Germany)
According to my DVD player, Vortex is just under 47 minutes long. It is a model of German efficiency; neat, compact, not too showy, solidly constructed. The Volkswagen Golf of sci-fi prison films. But with a few disconcerting surprises, like finding a stranger’s underwear wedged between the seats.
It’s the end of the 21st Century and violent crime is rife. Rife. In order to regain control, the battling security forces introduce Vortex, a new penal system said to be more effective than any other. “Quite simply,” we’re told, “it is the solution.”
And Vortex is where the unlucky Vincent Xzedden (Hardy Krüber Jr) is headed. Vincent is mugged by a one-eyed man while walking home through a park at night, and wrestles with his assailant - who ends up dead, shot with his own gun. Vincent is arrested. His claim of self-defence is rejected and he is found guilty of murder and given a life sentence in Vortex.
He is strapped into a space capsule and fired off to his new prison, which is a lot less 21st Century than the launching pad - other than it is full of mutant, genetically-modified CGI spiders and multipedes. Those nasties aside, the prison reminded me of those bustling South American prisons with prisoners operating shops and bars and all sorts of other commercial enterprises. The difference is that Vincent, who is guided around his new dark and murky lodgings by a designated ‘escort’, fellow prisoner Boon (Arne Fuhrmann), is given guns and ammunition and a ‘quota’. His quota, given that he is a murderer, is to kill one other inmate a week. Other prisoners, with different crimes and motivations, might only have to do a good turn once a week. If he fails to achieve his quota, he becomes someone else’s target. As I said: neat.
Vincent struggles. The idea of murdering someone is abhorrent to him, even after he is is told that his target for the first week is his creepy neighbour, Carl Avery (Harald Leipnitz), who is reported to be a serial killer with 17 victims… and a cannibal. Even after he finds dismembered body parts in rubbish that Carl is throwing away, and breaks into his cell and finds a gleaming set of knives, and even after Carl tries to kill him and he realises that he is Carl’s target, and despite Boon’s wise counsel… he still can’t bring himself to kill him.
At which time he’s brought to in his capsule, and told that he was never in prison, but that Vortex is actually a virtual reality software program… and that now that they know he couldn’t possibly murder someone they have decided to accept his plea of self-defence. OK. So he returns to his wife and his former life. Which might ordinarily be where it finishes… except that there are more twists and turns to come.
I rather liked this film; its brevity, its unexpected twists and its concept of a futuristic justice system that seems less wacky than many other sci-fi prisons.
Posted on November 12th, 2016 at 6:28 pm. Updated on November 12th, 2016 at 6:28 pm.
#147 in the Top 500