You shouldn’t focus on the plot or its preposterous details when watching “Cypher.” Watch it on your Roku or tablet at home, where you’re not as likely to care about the obvious stylistic clash between the movie’s collage of motion-sickness-inducing handheld camera footage and its hyper-stylized title cards, which divide the movie into chapters with ominous titles like “The Gift” and “The Gate,” all of which are presented in a John Carpenter on iMovie style font.
The movie’s horror movie beats, as well as its logic-defying, effects-driven details, also play differently in a theater, especially if a hyped audience surrounds you. Don’t look too hard or give too much credence to “Cypher,” or you might be too quick to dismiss its overwhelming creepiness.
For starters, it’s worth noting that Whack and some members of her team are real, including director Chris Moukarbel and producer Natalia-Leigh Brown, both of whom appear on camera. The rest of the story is a bit of a stretch, despite some amusing talking head interviews that seem real enough when focused on Whack and her career.
Whack is so charming that you might wish there was more concert footage of her in “Cypher.” Instead, we mostly follow Whack and her team as they chase after a conspiracy theory that implicates her and a cabal of Illuminati-type masons who control pop culture as we know it. At one point, a conspiracy theorist asks Moukarbel if he’s Jewish because, according to her, he looks Jewish. That’s supposed to be funny, at least.
There’s no way to enjoy “Cypher” without seeing it as an elaborate and often exasperating joke at viewers’ expense. It literally ends as such, though I won’t spoil the plot further. The filmmakers already do that when they inevitably land on a too-gentle and mostly generic feel-bad anticlimax. The rest of “Cypher” is largely entertaining, though only if you enjoy stories about world-manipulating shot-callers with doofy names like the Oculists, a high-powered offshoot of the Masons. You might also enjoy the unusual craftsmanship—particularly the scene-to-scene editing and unnerving soundtrack, including a score by Patrick Belaga and, uh, Bobby McFerrin?—that makes it easier to buy the movie’s self-serious fabulism.
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