'I'm NOT my father', Tom's assertion is far from dubious. As an audience one wanders, then why is he visiting his father. It turns out Tom reluctantly agreed to be a guinea pig for his father's science experiment in exchange of monetary returns. As he sits in the chair in the make-shift lab setup in a barn, a device is attached to his head which creates a digital copy of his brain on to a chip, thereby storing memories which, in future, can be reloaded in case of a memory loss. The idea, on the surface, may sound familiar and one might think, so what? The answer to this very question will set the audience on a twisted, yet heart-warming, feature film length debut by Arvi Ragu. Picking up the mantle as writer, director, and producer, Ragu has proven that his short-film 'One Small Step', which won 2019 Remi Award at WorldFest - Houston International Film Festival, was not a one-time fluke. His first feature length film, Cerebrum, has won Special Jury Prize at 2021 WorldFest during its world premier at the closing night.
The idea of storing and reloading memory is merely a yarn knit into a myriad of pieces which Ragu has meticulously stitched together around the central narrative of father-son relationship. James Russo plays the father, Kirk Davis, who has managed to copy the neural structure of a brain onto a micro-chip. The incentive for his research stems from witnessing his wife falling prey to Alzheimer's. Russo's natural portrayal of the father sets the tone of this film early on. A son's reluctance to see his father and their strenuous relationship can be felt through Russo's voice. His son Tom is brilliantly played by Christian James, who carries the baton forward and, without any exaggeration, carries the film to its finish line. Without giving much away, early on in the movie there is a scene in his father's lab that involves memory reload and right after this he is sitting in front of a TV watching a home video tape that his father had recorded, both of these scenes encompass James' acting prowess. He should be nominated and bestowed with awards. In the side cast Andy Pisharody's over-zealous intern, as Bruno, brings the humor and Alexxis Lemire's Chloe is a cool breeze. Ragu has succeeded admirably making every character an essential part of the plot.
On the technical front Jakob Lofberg and Ron McPherson have captured wild west with scorching heat. Jon Blaze's editing and Edward Antonio's music keep the tension afloat. In summary, Cerebrum is a remarkable debut. For film-lovers sci-fi genre is a gateway drug that teases and pushes them to venture into making their first film and invariably they fall into the trap of plot-driven incoherent mess that becomes a copy of a copy of Christopher Nolan. Fortunately, Ragu has resisted that temptation and made Cerebrum a character driven film that is coherent and accessible, without, dare I say, the need of multiple viewings. It is the father-son relationship that drives this drama on a winding road to a satisfying climax, making this sci-fi thriller beat with a warm human heart.