Computer Chess is a bit of a curio. When it begins you are instantly struck by its unique production style as to compliment its 1980s setting the film was shot on black and white video and the visuals are precisely as low quality as this implies. The film is set over a long weekend in an American hotel where a convention of computer programmers has congregated to battle their chess codes against one another, the victor having to then attempt to beat a human being. The ropey images nicely match the shabbily dressed men that litter the film and the period the film is set where presentations are given using overhead projectors with slides composed on acetates.
At the beginning Computer Chess felt like a winner. It was a fun almost-mockumentary with some quality humour that featured some brilliant stereotypical geek characters resplendent in their giant glasses and generous facial hair, it was interesting to see these styles outside of modern-day East London. One scene in particular tickled me as the camera panned across a nerded up version of a piano bar filled with men in white shirts while a synth keyboard was played sensually/awkwardly in the center.
Once computer chess based battle had commenced the film gradually began to lose the plot and its hold on me. What started as an amusing satire developed jarring surreal elements and the film lost its charm and instead became confusing and cringeworthy. Once a couples therapy group with swinging tendencies had been introduced to the hotel Computer Chess had completely lost its way. By the time the end credits rolled, in a stilted 1980s computer fashion, I was totally perplexed and can’t really explain to you what had gone on. it was as if the film lost confidence in its initial premise and started to throw in random elements to flesh things out and in doing so diluted the original vision.
With so much attention paid to the film’s aesthetic and a great set up ripe for comedy it is a real shame that Computer Chess completely lost its way. Director Andrew Bujalski made a film that looks unique and clearly has a sense of humour but it all got too messy and incoherent in the end. What a waste.
Computer Chess is in UK cinemas on 22nd November 2013.