It’s clear from the opening seconds of writer/director Nathaniel Atcheson’s Domain that this was an idea he had in his mind for quite some time. He confirmed as much during our interview with him and some of the principle cast, explaining that he’d written the first draft in 2010, and had reworked the idea several times before finally shooting the film in 2015.
The opening credits are littered with audio excerpts to help clue us in to what’s happened in the context of the film. In short: a major epidemic of Saharan Flu has wiped out most of the Earth’s population. While scrambling to build underground bunkers for everyone, time ran out, and the inhabitants were chosen by a lottery to reside underground, patiently waiting to return to the surface.
The first scene, which comes in abruptly mid-conversation, introduces us to the seven survivors, all who communicate exclusively through cameras and screens arguing over what to do after a major reveal by one of them. Orlando (Kevin Sizemore) admits to having killed people before the world ended. The other six survivors, each nicknamed after the city where they lived, debate what they should do with this revelation.
After some deliberation, they vote to ban Orlando from their network (formally known as the titular Domain), and with that, their micro-community that they’d spent five years building suddenly starts to unravel. Questions begin to surface about everyone’s past, as well as their present. They question if who they were has an impact on who they are, or what difference any of it makes, given that they each live out their days in identical rooms for (what’s assumed to be) the rest of their natural lives.
Of course, the delicate construct of social hierarchy as told through characters who only communicate via camera and computer screen draws comparison to today’s climate — a world where everyone has a supercomputer in their front pocket and broadcasts aspects of their personal lives across a vast and expanding internet. As does the notion of who you are online vs. who you are in person, and where those lines begin to obscure into irrelevance.
Then, slowly, things in Domain start to come undone, and as systems begin to malfunction, and the mystery of what became of Orlando heightens, everyone starts to question the very nature of where they’ve really been living these past six years. It sets the stage for both a slow-burn and a big reveal, but the real strength of Domain is how the actors were able to pull off convincing performances considering none of them appear on-camera together until well into the third act.
While Sizemore’s impact as Orlando leaves a marked impression with relatively little screen time, the presumed “relationship” between Ryan Merriman’s charming, methodical Denver and Britt Lower’s Phoenix, their conscientious objector. This is made even more complicated by William Gregory Lee’s Boston, the groups’ elected leader whose skepticism of others may (or may not) be tinged with jealousy.
A tense, brooding portrayal of the human condition under the most confined, and controlled, circumstances, Domain is a film with ideas that aren’t confined by its budget. With that, Atcheson proves himself to be a gifted storyteller, who presents what looks like a sci-fi movie equivalent to a bottle episode, but turns out to be a much more intricate puzzle box that dominoes its way toward its surprising conclusion.
For information on upcoming screenings check out DomainTheMovie.com.