Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven has left the nostalgic Vermontiana of Howard Frank Mosher, for the near future — and apparently a very dark one.

The sci-fi thriller “Wetware,” based on the novel by Craig Nova, is set in a future where “failed” humans, such as criminals and drug addicts, can be reprogrammed to happily perform the grunt tasks that society depends upon. There is actually a waiting list of people wanting to ditch their misery.

But now it’s time to train the higher-intelligence “Mungos,” as they are called, for more sophisticated tasks, like spying and assassination. But what happens when one of the programmers falls in live with one of his subjects?

“Wetware” will be screened at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18, at Weston Playhouse. Craven, the film’s director, will attend the screening and lead a post-screening discussion.

Hal Briggs (Cameron Scoggins), the head genetic engineer at Galapagos Wetware, is in charge of developing Mungos for the more challenging roles. He has already engineered laborers to work happily and soldiers perfectly willing to die.

However, when Briggs interviews Kay Romilard (Morgan Wolk), he finds himself emotionally engaged. Breaking the rules, he programs her to be capable of human emotions, telling himself — and his boss — that will make her a more effective operative.

Briggs’ boss Leslie Carr (Nicole Shalhoub), though, has other plans for Kay. Without Briggs’ knowledge, Carr reprograms Kay for an undercover operation to destroy the too-powerful financial mogul Wendell Blaine (Bret Lada). Because of her mixed programming, Kay finds herself conflicted between a love for Briggs and a desire to complete her task — which involves seduction — with Blaine.

As usual, if it can go wrong, it does. Despite its obvious political implications, the story doesn’t have great depth. However, the storytelling is just plain exciting.

Scoggins’ Briggs is standard fare for American movies, intellectually brilliant but emotionally stupid. Morgan Wolk’s Kay is more endearing — and complex — as she balances her focused Mongo-ness with rediscovering old parts of her (including her past as a pianist) and, of course, discovering love — for both the hero Briggs and the villain Blaine.

Breaking the heavy earnestness of the tale with some delightful humor is Briggs’ living alarm clock (Aurélia Thiérée), who presses and cajoles Briggs. Like a Greek chorus, she offers witty commentary throughout. Perhaps unintentionally, Jack Portman (Bret Lada) as Kay’s peer “Mungo”, trained as an assassin, offers his share of humor, especially when he rediscovers sex. And then there is Rusty DeWees as a Mongo thug — just delicious.

As I’m really not a film critic, I can only say the filming and settings proved effective for the storytelling and built tension throughout. It all felt plenty real, especially when things were going from bad to worse.

“Wetware” was produced in Burlington, Brattleboro and Nantucket. It was produced by Craven’s Kingdom County Productions and its Movies from Marlboro program at Marlboro College, where 24 professionals mentored and collaborated with 32 students from a dozen colleges during a film intensive semester.

“Wetware” is quite simply a lot of fun — in a macabre sort of way.

Jim Lowe is music and theater critic and arts editor of The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, and can be reached at jim.lowe@rutlandherald or

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