A portentous mix of cryptic plotting, soothing music and overlit imagery, The Scientist demonstrates a knack for conjuring an ominous mood and little else. A grieving scientist (Bill Sage) prone to hallucinatory freakouts and estranged from his colleagues spends his days building some sort of machine. The nature of this project is never precisely clarified, but the results of this experiment give him extrasensory abilities, opening a window onto his neighbors’ marital discord. Suffice it to say, his ultimate use of his powers would not go over well with NARAL.
Director Zach LeBeau flaunts his influences—The Conversation, Memento, Donnie Darko, Close Encounters, possibly Birth—but cinephilia alone isn’t enough to sustain a movie. If The Scientist is initially intriguing, mostly in a what’s-going-on sort of way, its spell dissipates the more it unravels. The signifiers of grief—the protagonist maintains an alarmingly comprehensive collection of stuffed animals, for instance—flirt with cliché, and there’s nothing inherently interesting about a man losing his grip on reality, especially if the escalation of madness is so quick. The title character claims Einstein is a crank, but it’s his own movie that suffers from a failure of vision.