Issue 71 (2021)

Nikita Argunov: Coma (Koma, 2019)

reviewed by Chip Crane © 2021

komaComa is the latest in a string of would-be blockbuster films produced by Sarik Andreasian (Unforgiven [Neproshchennyi, 2018], The Guardians [Zashchitniki, 2017], and Earthquake [Zemletriasenie, 2016], to name a few), although he did not serve as the director of this science fiction effort. Instead, it is serves as the debut for visual effects specialist Nikita Argunov, whose Argunov Studios created the CGI for The Guardians and Earthquake, as well as Nikolai Khomeriki’s The Icebreaker [Ledokol, 2016] and numerous other films. Argunov’s experience serves the film well as its computer-generated landscapes are often quite stunning and its space-bending action sequences (which are clearly influenced by films like The Matrix, Inception, and Dr. Strange) are well executed and compelling to watch.

komaComa opens with a nameless protagonist waking up in a world that is unfamiliar—the buildings and passersby are partially disintegrated and the sky above his street has been replaced with a disorienting hodgepodge of buildings from all around the world arranged at angles reminiscent of the work of M.C. Escher on a neural network that extends into space. Almost immediately he is attacked by a CGI monster and he is just as suddenly rescued by three strangers who proceed to lead the protagonist on a tutorial mission that lays out the rules of the game he is playing. Pursued by the monster they jump from place to place and plane to plane as the companions explain everything: the protagonist is in a coma, as are they; the spaces in the worlds—“islands”—are the memories of people in comas; the monsters—“reapers”—are the souls of braindead patients kept alive by life support and they hunt the other coma patients; nobody remembers their names so they have taken handles like Fly and the Astronomer; everyone develops a superpower—Phantom possesses superhuman speed and reflexes, Spirit can sense reapers, Fly can heal others, Tank is strong. Eventually the protagonist—named Architect after his pre-comatose profession—is introduced to the leader of the squad, a visionary named Yan who intimates that Architect is a chosen one who will save them. After another action sequence Architect’s ability shows itself: he can manifest physical structures with his mind. Yan informs him of his purpose: he must manifest a new island that will be imagined rather than remembered and therefore inaccessible to the reapers.

komaAnd then, in the film’s big twist, Architect emerges from his coma and meets the real-life Yan, a researcher/cult leader who had commissioned him to design a city for his followers—the first of whom are the inhabitants of the coma world that he had just emerged from. Yan points out that the architect’s talent is wasted in the real world where all anyone is in interested are “boxes”; his visionary designs can only be achieved in the simulation. The architect agrees to re-enter a comatose state and build Yan’s utopia, but only if he and his girlfriend (Fly in the coma world) are released afterwards. Architect manifests the island he had designed; Yan betrays him; he kills Yan and escapes the coma world with his girlfriend. The film ends with them watching a news segment about the cult—now more popular than ever—and the architect locking an invitation to the utopia that he had created in a drawer.

komaAs is probably clear from the above, Coma is not a masterpiece. The characters hover on the fine line between archetype and cliché and the premise doesn’t stand up to even a small amount of scrutiny (why, for example, can the hero remember that he is an architect, but not remember his name or recognize his girlfriend?). But it is also not terrible. The acting is fine (perhaps even very good, given the material that they were working with) and the plot is an acceptable pretext for the visual spectacle that is clearly the point of the film. Although it hints at deeper themes when the hero chooses to live in a boring and flawed real world instead of an exciting and idealized simulated one they are not overlabored. The romantic subplot was tacked on, but in a way that is pretty standard for action films. While the film was met with mediocre reviews and did not recoup its budget, it clearly is a part of the recent trend of competently made genre films emerging in Russia. While it can’t be compared to the top tier of Hollywood blockbusters (which cost hundreds of millions of dollars more to produce than this film) Coma can easily hold its own against a middle tier of effects-oriented Hollywood genre films like those of Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon, Resident Evil, Alien Vs. Predator), an achievement that should feel promising to fans of Russian cinema.

 

Chip Crane
Florida State University

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Coma, Russia, 2019
Color, 111 Minutes
Director: Nikita Argunov
Screenplay: Nikita Argunov, Timofei Dekin, Aleksei Gravitskii
Producers: Gevond Andreasian, Sarik Andreasian, Ruben Dishdishian
Cast: Rinal' Mukhametov, Liubov' Novikova, Anton Pampushnyi, Milosh Bikovich, Rostislav Gulbis, Igor’ Sigaev, Vilen Babichev, Polina Kuz'minskaia
Camera: Sergei Dyshuk
Production Design: David Dadunashvili
Composer: Il'ia Andrus
Production: Bol'shoe kino, Mars Media, Central Partnership, Fond Kino

Nikita Argunov: Coma (Koma, 2019)

reviewed by Chip Crane © 2021

Updated: 2021