A New Drug

Amos Lassen

 When the government tries to produce a designer drug aimed at correcting the false perceptions that people develop during trauma and stress, the implications become deadly. When the drug is advertised as a cure for socio-political tensions, four couples volunteer and end up with far more than they bargained for as their past and present are examined while taking different varieties of the new drug. This causes them to doubt their own memory, perceptions and even their own sanity.

Today it seems like whatever the issue is, all we have to do is just pop a pill or get an injection and all will be well. For these miracle drugs get to the market, they had to be tested in a controlled environment before being sold to the masses. We think that a new drug would never hit the market without successful drug trials performed on willing, fully informed people. “Altered Perception” looks at just this topic by showing what could go wrong with these drug trials and why not everything on the market is as safe as advertised.

The film opens with a panel, lead by Walter (Mark Burnham), who are trying to get to the bottom of what happened during a government drug trial of D.T.P., an experimental drug that is supposed to correct false perceptions people have developed during times of trauma and stress. This particular trial focused on three couples with each pair dealing with their own set of issues, but each hope that this drug will be a miracle and do what other more conventional approaches could not do to save their relationships. The panel was created because, though each couple was filmed and monitored at home homes, researchers ignored warning signs and someone has lost their life.

Couple number one is Andrew (Jon Huertas) and Lorie (Jennifer Blanc-Biehn). Andrew is a lawyer and Lorie is a former prostitute. It is clear that they love each other, but both have extreme hang-ups that will not allow them to live in peace together. Andrew knows about Lorie’s past and accepts it, but it bothers him in ways that he cannot explain. Lorie has also accepted her past but feels as though Andrew has not so she picks apart everything he says and always goes back to him not accepting her or her past. They are constantly fighting about something that they cannot change, and the fights begin to become violent and damaging. They both hope that D.T.P. will help them overcome their issues.

Couple number two is Kristina (Jade Tailor) and Steven (Emrhys Cooper) who have extreme trust issues. Steven works in the film industry so he is not home all the time, while Kristina is a housewife who is obsessed with the idea that her husband is cheating on her— she questions everything he says and does. Steven is losing both sleep and jobs because of Kristina’s insecurities especially since he has never done anything to warrant her feeling this way but she refuses to let go of the idea and Steven is starting to want to leave her. Their hope is that the medicine will allow them to work through Kristina’s trust issues so that neither must ever live like this.

The third couple is Emily (Hallie Jordan) and Beth (Nichola Fynn). They love each other and want to get married but Emily is worried that Beth is into men and will leave her for one. Beth has accused Emily’s brother, Justin (Matthew Ziff) of raping her and this is from where she gets the idea. Justin denies this accusation and claims they just had consensual sex. For her part, Emily cannot believe the worst of her brother, and wants Beth to admit that she is lying about it being rape. Beth is hurt that her girlfriend refuses to believe her about something so painful, and the two are firmly rooted into their positions with Justin squarely in the middle. D.T.P. is their last hope to overcome their issues or they will be finished.

The film looks at the questions of does D.T.P. even work? Will this new trial drug be the answer to anyone’s prayers? What could have gone so wrong that someone does not make it through the trial alive? Is it D.T.P.’s fault or is it the fault of the researchers who were supposed to be monitoring the couples?

Each couple has trust issues of some kind formed by their own irrational thinking. While each has very complex and serious issues, we are immediately pulled in. We see that even though each couple is intriguing and matched, everyone is damaged in some way and for some specific reason. The couples all mention that they have tried different approaches to solving their problems. D.T.P. is a drug that is meant to break through all that and give new insight, and the film subtly raises questions as to why any drug would be the answer for anyone in these situations.

It is up to the patient and their doctor to decide whether risks are worth the potential positives associated with the drug, while researchers performing the drug trials are supposed to ensure that the parameters are set in such a way that limits negative outcomes. This did not happen with the D.T.P. trials. Each person was given a different dosage of the drug and a placebo was also given to one person, while none of them knew who was given what or what the potential side effects might be. As with all trials, it was up to the researchers to put a stop to the trial if anything seemed to be going badly. However, these researchers were clearly more invested in getting the drug to market than the safety of the individuals testing the drug. If government does not care in a supposed controlled environment, then what will happen if this drug goes to the masses?

This is a political film underlying the main reasons the public should be wary of some new drugs and drug trials. True, not all drugs approved on the market are bad, but what had to happen to get them to that point? 

We rethink the drugs in our own medicine cabinets. The government and drug companies want to push drugs to make a dollar. Director Kate Rees Davies effortlessly glides between each couple and ensures that no one narrative’s dramatic arc is undercut when we change storylines. However, the auditing sequences do not always work smoothly . Figuring out who is the working on behalf of the auditor and who are the company employees, except the auditor, is a bit confusing. There is a doctor and based on some of the questions, I don’t think he was with the auditor, but at times he seemed to side with them, so it is unclear.

Huertas as the self-aggrandizing Andrew is excellent, with a speech about his insecurities, late in the film, and how it makes him impossible to deal with, even to himself is heart wrenching. Blanc-Biehn creates a sympathetic character out of someone that is manipulative on occasion. Burdock and Fynn as the LBGT couple have outstanding chemistry and they feel entirely realized in and out of the relationship. As the despicable Justin, Matthew Ziff is slimy. Less impressive is Jade Tailor as the paranoid Kristina. She overacts often, and while the character is meant to be over-the-top hysterical, there is no baseline that she goes back to give the audience an idea of how acts between such bouts. This makes her character off-putting at all times. It doesn’t help that she and Cooper don’t have sparks flying between them, so them being married seems an odd match. The film looks at an alarming issue with kinetic style and strong characterizations.

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