Indie, Sci-Fi ‘Discontinued’ Send Ups Reality While Finding Hope

Indie, Sci-Fi ‘Discontinued’ Send Ups Reality While Finding Hope

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Cinequest’s Audience Award for Best Sci-Fi Film and Coney Island‘s Best Feature of the Year, Discontinued is gathering festival buzz. It’s an indie comedy about the will to live – who has it, who loses it, and why.

Yes, there are lots of artsy films about existential dread, but Discontinued manages to depict our current reality while finding hope. It does so by centering Sarah (Ashley Hutchinson), a young woman adrift as she navigates the end of the world. We meet her after she’s given up pursuing her dream job, is living alone, and eschews social situations. Then she, and everyone else on the planet, learn they’re living in a simulation and only have a week to decide if they’ll keep going in their make-believe world or go off to a computer-generated version of heaven.

As such, Sarah has lots of (valid) complaints about her current state of reality. And her issues aren’t resolved when she learns that hers is just one of millions of replicas, testing other variables.

Yes, she lives in a lily-white world where the only diversity comes from the “helper” avatar (Langston Fishburne – yes, relation) sent from the future humans running the simulation. Her job may not be her ideal but she lives in a nice house (although she’s behind on the rent) with an understanding landlord. She goes to therapy even if it’s expensive. Her parents love her and they’re close by.

But even with all the privilege, Sarah is still stuck in a clinical depression that manifests in part through suicidal ideation. She has a medicine cabinet full of pills and a life without a lot of meaning. So what does she decide? Well, I don’t want to spoil anything but what plays out is surprising.

I also want to be clear that despite its heavy topic, Discontinued is a comedy. It laughs at our current malaise, validating Sarah’s concerns without getting stuck. It does so in part by leveraging its supporting cast of misfits – Sarah’s dad (Charlie Talbert) who decides the end of the world means he no longer has time for pants, her therapist (Robert Picardo – I see you Voyager!) who finally gets to say what he thinks of her, and her best friend (Michelle Yazvac) who goes deep into dancing spirituality when she hears the news.

Perhaps most outrageous is her terrible blind date (Michael Bonini) a tech douche bro who keeps popping up and being terrible despite Sarah’s continued rejection of him. The phrase “not if we were the last two people on Earth” comes to mind.

At its best, Discontinued echoes Oscar winner Everything Everywhere All at Once a bit. Both films play with alternate realities and cascading versions of their main heroines. But while EEAAO hops between worlds, Discontinued takes a much quieter approach. We stay with the one Sarah who’s stuck in her reality, often alone in her struggles.

And while EEAAO centered the “worst version” of Evelyn, Discontinued portrays the most resilient Sarah. She may not save the multi-verse but she saves herself and that’s enough.

It’s a tough balancing act to pull off – swinging from depression to resilience without getting sad or cheesy. But Discontinued does it, taking Sarah’s mental health seriously but not itself. The result is a smart, insightful movie that leans into its particular perspective to find the joy in the terrible.