At the start of “For the Plasma,” a stubbornly enigmatic debut feature from Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan, Helen (Rosalie Lowe) has been living in an isolated pocket of Maine, where she has a job looking out for forest fires. Spending her days watching a deadening bank of surveillance TVs, she has found an unexpected benefit to reframing her concentration.
Apparently, if she highlights random words in that morning’s New York Times business section, then spends a lot of time staring at the trees captured by the cameras, she can predict financial shifts, accurately enough to get paid for her efforts.
But Helen needs help and, to that end, has brought in her friend Charlie (Anabelle LeMieux), whose role will be to go to the surveillance sites and provide a second opinion. (On what, exactly, is a question that befuddles even Charlie.) This dynamic may owe something to the films of Jacques Rivette, particularly “Céline and Julie Go Boating” and “Le Pont du Nord,” in which female duos stumble into the inexplicable.
Mr. Bryant, who wrote the screenplay, puts a lot of pseudo-heady ideas in Helen’s mouth. But despite ample references to art and literature, “For the Plasma” is perhaps more concerned with the secrets the women keep from each other than it is with photography or the subjective nature of interpretation.
Prone to non sequiturs, the movie unfolds with an unconventional rhythm and structure that often look suspiciously like amateurishness. (The precious synthesizer score by Keiichi Suzuki doesn’t help.) The performances are so stilted that at times they seem pitched as deliberate alienation effects. The distinction is especially unclear when Herbert (Tom Lloyd), the creepy keeper of a nearby lighthouse, turns up during a power outage.
“For the Plasma” is a film with no shortage of ambition, taste (Maine looks great in 16-millimeter) or ideas. It’s a shame those ideas are so incoherent.
“For the Plasma” is not rated and runs 1 hour 34 minutes.