In a film that won her the directing award for U.S. documentary at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Natalia Almada muses about her children and how they've been raised in the technology age in Users. She asks, "What will be the landscape of their childhood memories?"
The film utilizes gorgeous visuals and a dynamic soundtrack that mixes an orchestra with the natural sounds of everyday technology, but I found myself, especially during the long stretches of silence, asking the same questions throughout the film: Who is that? What's happening? Why am I being shown this? Where is this place?
The symbolism in each shot, more clear in some places than others, lacked the storytelling on why viewers are supposed to care about what was on the screen.
The reasoning for the film is deeply personal, and it feels at times that the director is showing her innermost thoughts through imagery without cluing the viewer in on the symbolism behind what's being shown. It was difficult to pinpoint the exact message Almada was trying to make at any given point because of the stretches of silence that lasted for minutes at a time.
The few moments when Almada does speak, usually only for a sentence or so, were only to share some facts and musings about what was onscreen at the moment. The visuals shown on the screen, while breathtakingly beautiful, took a little bit too long to get to the point. Although Almada's aim was sharing her deepest thoughts about the state of the world and technology, it felt like there was a wall between the filmmaker and her audience.
It's not until the last 30 minutes of the film that more of the director's point shines through. She brings the film back around to her kids and how memories are now data, stored on hard drives. In a haunting sequence, the hard drive whirs while sounds of her son talking are played over. A few minutes later, a recurring shot of her son sitting in front of a computer tracks facial recognition dots over him, symbolizing how he, a human being, has also been turned into data.
Users, while one of the most gorgeously shot films, failed to grab my attention on visuals alone. The idea behind the film is touching and introspective, but the storytelling never told me why viewers need to care about what was on the screen or being told.