Around September of last year, a trippy-looking science fiction movie entitled Branded came out. It tanked horribly, but it looked interesting – so I watched it on Netflix last night.
I’m not entirely sure what to think of it. Watching Branded was an interesting experience in that it wasn’t a terrible movie on the face of it. Yes, there were some serious pacing issues and some plot threads left dangling in the end, but the actual story was quite interesting: a man marked at a young age for surviving being struck by lightning grows up, becomes a marketing guru, and after an unfortunate turn of events discovers that famous world-wide brands have become sentient creatures that feed off the desires of humanity like invisible parasites that only he can see. In order to save the world from the grip of these invisible monsters, he embarks on a plan to destroy the world of advertising by sabotaging one brand at a time from the inside out.
The concept of the film is solid, and would play as an excellent satire in the same way that Carpenter’s They Live did when it came to shadowy forces controlling our lives and manipulating us into docile consumerist sheep but for one problem: there’s simply not enough humor in the film. Branded takes itself so seriously that it’s impossible to go along with the main character as he struggles to understand what’s happened to him and what he should do with this new-found power to see beyond the veil, and it’s not until the last third of the film when the protagonist begins to gleefully take apart the world of marketing and advertising that we get any sense of playfulness. It’s a shame to see such excellent potential wasted, though there are some clever touches such as the fight between the Microsoft and Apple analogue brand creatures that ends up destroying both of them.
However, there is one area that the film delivers on, and that’s a strong condemnation of how advertising and marketing campaigns can manipulate the general public and convince them to act against their own best interests. A main plot point revolves around how a conglomerate of fast-food executives wants to increase their market share, so they orchestrate a rather Byzantine scheme to change global perceptions in such a way that being grossly overweight is considered not just socially acceptable but preferable to being fit. Say what you want about body image issues but the ploy works in the film: people around the globe becomes much more heavier, leading to a boom for the fast food industry – along with a massive uptick in weight-related issues such as heart disease and diabetes. It’s a nefarious yet heavy-handed and fairly obvious plan – but people fall for it anyway, and it’s there that the satire of Branded truly shines.
Overall it’s worth watching on Netflix if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill and you don’t mind a disjointed plot with too much of an emphasis on exposition and bizarre stylistic cinematography. Or if you’re working on a film criticism degree or something. Other than that, you can probably skip this one and just go watch They Live instead.