An engineer at a robotics firm, experiencing nightmares of urban combat between the U.S. and Chinese forces, fears that his dreams are infiltrating his daily life but soon discovers he is a master soldier unknowingly fighting a real war.
Synopsis:James Maynard works as an engineer at a start-up robotics firm, like most of the people in his idyllic Long Island suburb. One lunchtime at a softball game he’s hit in the head by a line drive; that night he dreams he’s a platoon leader on patrol in a foreign city, fighting off human waves of enemy infantry. In the morning he tries to explain his dream to his wife Abby, but she shrugs it off. His son Danny is playing a violent video game while waiting for the school bus, and Maynard can only stare at the carnage. At the company picnic, we recognize the faces of Maynard’s platoon. Every word out of his co-workers’ mouths seems somehow related to war, but innocently (“I’m going to do a recon of those wieners.”). Maynard tries to show his wife Abby his latest lab project, but the entrance to the Box is closed off. When Maynard asks his boss about it, he tells Maynard it’s just routine maintenance. His boss is flying a remote-controlled plane. On the way home, they hit a dog. Maynard finds it in the bushes, hurt; its legs are made of stainless steel. With a technique that seems practiced, Maynard snaps its neck cleanly. He’s stunned at his ability. He wraps the dog in his coat before Abby can see it and shoves it in the trunk. On his basement workbench, Maynard takes apart the dog, astonished at the complexity of it. From the top of the stairs, Cooper, the family dog, watches him. The dreams continue, the same foreign city – Sydney, Australia, because there’s the opera house. This time Maynard himself is killed. That evening he shows the dog to his next door neighbor and best friend Raymonde, an electrical engineer. He says it’s a remote drone, very high end, maybe military. Next morning, Maynard recognizes the clerk at the 7-Eleven. He was part of his platoon. Everything is familiar and strange at the same time. At work, Maynard tries to make sense of what’s happening, thinking it all has to be related: the dreams, the dog, the neighborhood, his job. He googles “Battle of Sydney,” but none of the links are working; they are all blocked by the corporate filtering firewall. Later in the morning, leveraging the latest motion capture technology and predictive algorithms, Maynard and his team try to make the torso of a robot mimic the movements of one of his co-workers. Maynard is so intent in making this work that he doesn’t see a member of his team capturing him on another computer. Everyone laughs when the top half of the robot mimics the mannerisms of Maynard, except Maynard doesn’t find this funny; in fact, it looks sinister to him. Before lunch, Maynard goes down to the basement of the building, a tunnel entrance that leads to the Box, but Maynard is denied access. On his way back up, he sees a police cruiser in the parking lot, a man in a suit and a cop getting into it and leaving. When he goes up to see his boss, Maynard becomes paranoid, suddenly aware of all the cameras in the building. His boss tells Maynard that he is indeed being watched and takes him down to the Box to show him a warehouse full of planes like the one he was flying at the picnic. These remote-controlled spy drones will make or break the ground war in Australia between the U.S. and China, and they were designed by Maynard. Because the Chinese have spies looking for the creator of these planes, Maynard went through memory-suppression therapy; unfortunately there are side effects, like the nightmares he’s having. That evening, Maynard takes his son Danny to his tae kwon do. While Danny earns his belt, Maynard volunteers to play the role of a victim for the self-defense class. When the instructor accidentally hurts Maynard, a martial arts fight ensues. Even though Maynard knows nothing of kung fu, he subdues the instructor expertly. Awakened by another nightmare, Maynard goes downstairs and sees the eerie glow of the XBox. Though he’s never played it before, he’s better than Danny at this video game, finishing it by morning. He jumps on the treadmill and tries to run faster than humanly possible, and fails. In the shower, Maynard cuts his own arm for a hint of steel, but there’s only blood. He throws back the shower curtain, and there’s the family dog in the hall, watching – and Maynard knows it’s not his dog but a fake. He hurries after the dog, but then he sees on TV that the clerk at the 7-Eleven has killed two teenagers. Despite Abby’s protests, Maynard drives off to the 7-Eleven. At the police station, the chief and Maynard’s boss watch the surveillance video from the 7-Eleven. It shows the clerk lying in wait for the teenagers, slitting their throats as neatly as a Navy SEAL. We’ve got a problem, the chief says. You’ve got a problem, the boss says. In the cell, the clerk is baffled, back to his old self; he wants a lawyer. While the chief and the boss argue, they notice from the live video feed that Maynard is approaching the crime scene. It looks like there may be an altercation between the police and Maynard, but Maynard goes away peacefully. After another nightmare, Maynard takes Abby to the basement and shows her the dog, telling her that they’re being watched, but when Maynard tells Abby that their dog Cooper has been switched, she thinks he’s crazy. He grabs a pair of needlenose pliers and runs up to Danny’s room, drags Cooper out, and tests a piece of his leg. He’s the real dog. Abby calls the police. Raymonde visits Maynard at the police station jail. Maynard tells Raymonde everything – the dreams, the robot dog, his fight with the martial arts instructor. The chief and the boss, watching the conversation through the camera, discuss the problem they’re having with Maynard and his team. In the evening, two cops tell Maynard they’re taking him home, but when Maynard realizes he’s been transferred to a high-security prison, he breaks out easily and goes home. Abby doesn’t want to let him in. Maynard goes to Raymonde’s house and explains to him what’s going on. He shows him his kung fu moves and says Raymonde can do them too. To everyone’s surprise, Raymonde can. The cops arrive, but they’re no match for the psycho skills of Maynard and Raymonde In the ensuing firefight, one of the cops turns out to be a robot. The neighbors/co-workers fall out, and they’re all familiar to Maynard (and to us); they’re his men. What’s clear is that they were all part of some army. Someone has been controlling them, messing with their memories in ways more severe than what the boss explained earlier. They decide to assault the Box to find the answers. Raymonde returns to his house to gather equipment for the fight but is killed by his robot double. When he rejoins Maynard, he transmits pictures back to the boss. Their plan is betrayed from the start. The infiltration of the Box fails. Everyone but Maynard is killed. The secret, the boss shows Maynard, is SOFTWAR. The U.S. has been fighting a ground war against China. They needed more soldiers than they had, so they had to build robots and send waves of them against the Chinese. Maynard’s platoon fought in the Battle of Sydney. And were victorious, heroes even. But the fighting took longer than they thought; the Chinese lost millions, and Maynard and his men died hundreds of times. Mentally they were thoroughly destroyed. This life on Long Island has been created for them as a reward. The needle slips in, and Maynard goes woozy. I’m not gonna fight for you anymore, he vows. Yes you will, his boss says. That’s what you do. You’re a soldier. It’s a beautiful Saturday in the suburbs. Maynard’s mowing the lawn. Neighbors wave as they drive by. Maynard waves back, smiling. As we zoom on his smile, we hear the clatter of combat, the explosions and gunfire, the shrieks of the dying. The noise of war remains as we pull back, an overhead shot to show the endless houses and streets of suburbia.