Clever Indie Sci-Fi Challenges Viewers to Listen to the Past

Forget Tachyons, what if lingering sounds offered a chance to look back in time? With “Soundwave,” writer/director Dylan K. Narang weaves a compelling indie thriller involving a young man who constructs a device that can hear the past. And, naturally, it gets him in trouble.

Ben Boyles (Hunter Doohan) works in an electronics repair shop fixing old radios. He’s got an uncanny ability to repair ancient devices. But, in secret, he’s been tinkering with a machine that picks up on sounds from hours even days earlier. And when he’s called upon by a police detective named Macy (Vince Nappo) to help him out with solving cases, the criminal underworld takes notice.

Hunter Doohan as Ben Boyles listens to the past.

Having lost his father when he was young, Ben’s motivations for creating the device aren’t necessarily for financial gain. But the extra money he makes by assisting Macy helps, and, if Ben decides to throw in with a violent mobster named Frank (Paul Tassone), there could be an even bigger reward.

What works best in “Soundwave” is the intriguing science-fiction premise at the film’s heart. Narang uses a simple visual technique to illustrate how Ben’s sound device hears pieces of the past. Through still images and audio clips, we hear and see what happened moments or hours earlier.

The use of still visuals and audio is clever, and because Narang is working with a small budget, this approach fits his financial limitations while not sacrificing production value. With much fewer resources, “Soundwave” introduces many of the same ideas that are explored so powerfully in the popular series “DEVS.” And with a brisk running time, “Soundwave” doesn’t lag having characters endlessly debate the efficacy of using the device.

Mike Beaver is good as Antonio.

Not only does “Soundwave” look and, yes, sound great, the performances are solid across the board. Tassone is convincing as the mob enforcer. He’s not quite as over-the-top menacing as, say, Larry Drake’s Durant in Sam Raimi’s 1990 film “Darkman.” But the movie and Tassone’s character feels a part of the same “Darkman” universe. There’s a subtle campy quality, but not one that gives into ridiculousness.

I liked Mike Beaver as Antonio, one of Ben’s father’s friends that runs an electronics shop. Beaver plays Antonio with a lot of compassion, and because Antonio feels sorry for Ben’s loss of his parents, the character needed that level of authenticity. Narang takes his time developing this friendship, as Antonio and Ben discuss what they can do for their needy customers.

Doohan is uniformly good, even though he might be a little too young for the role. His possible relationship with a depressed shop clerk named Katie (Katie Owsley) is strained, but Owsley is sincere in the role, and the script smartly doesn’t require accelerated romantic entanglement. I bought this relationship as the introverted Ben becomes infatuated with an attractive, troubled, possibly older girl. And since Ben shares a similar emotional backstory with Katie, the pieces fall into place.

Katie Owsley plays the troubled love interest.

Inevitably, the narrative does become a chase thriller with sci-fi elements. And while we’ve seen this material before, the aspect of sound waves as both a mechanism to hear into the past and as a weapon against those threatening in the present is fascinating. Such concepts push “Soundwave” above lesser low-budget fare.

See other solid examples of this style of filmmaking in 2017’s “Curvature,” 2018’s trippy “The Endless,” and “Anti Matter.” These films explore time travel within the indie genre. And last year’s “Starfish” used sound to craft an analog mystery.

It’s exciting whenever filmmakers think beyond the box and producers fund their ideas. And with “Soundwave” Narang joins a smart group of writers and directors who aren’t afraid to combine challenging science fiction notions with familiar narrative tropes.