Review: ‘The Heart Machine’ [SXSW 2014]

The Heart Machine

The Heart Machine | Zachary Wigon | SXSW 2014

The internet has made anything possible. Two people can be hundreds of thousands of miles away from one another, but they can connect as if they’re right next to each other, simply by using the internet. These two people can even meet online and start a relationship based on a chance encounter. But what happens when the other person isn’t actually hundreds of thousands of miles away, and has actually been in the same city as you, continuing a lie just as long as they’ve been continuing your “relationship.”

This is the premise of The Heart Machine, the feature film debut of director (and former film critic) Zachary Wigon. Cody (John Gallagher Jr.) and Virginia (Kate Lynn Sheil) met online and have been dating even though they have never met in real life. Cody lives in Brooklyn, while Virginia tells him she is studying abroad in Berlin. Their relationship solely exists online, through intimate Skype sessions.

During one of their sessions Cody hears police sirens passing by, but something about it doesn’t sit right with him. He looks up what a German police siren sounds like, and it doesn’t sound anything like the one he just heard. Instead, it sounds familiar. That same day he saw a girl that looked just like her on the subway. He brings up seeing her doppelganger and she reacts coldly to it, almost too weird. Their session soon ends and he goes to his closest where he has posted a bunch of other clues that he has collected proving that his online girlfriend is lying about her whereabouts. In fact, he’s sure that she’s right across the river from him in Manhattan.

Cody is absorbed and obsessed with proving his theory correct, down to the exact borough. He goes bouncing around from surrounding coffee shop and bars asking if anyone recognizes her name or photo. Soon he’s resorting to the sort of creepy investigating on social networking sites which is borderline stalking. It gets to the point of being creepy, but at the same time, her lying to him about her whereabouts when she’s in the same city as him isn’t much better. She’s out on dates and hooking up with guys, even when she’s supposed to be in an online relationship.

The film has some faults, but the performances of its two leads isn’t one of them. John Gallagher Jr., (best known for his role on HBO’s The Newsroom or last year’s Short Term 12) and Kate Lyn Sheil offer strong performances. Their chemistry is believable enough when they’re online together, but it’s when they’re at their lonesome that their true talent shines through.

The build-up to the final moments was certainly intriguing and an interesting commentary on online relationships and technology. When we final get to the conclusion, I didn’t feel quite as satisfied as I hoped. Still, watching how it all unfolds is a rather emotional journey, one that I never hope to take myself.

7.0/10