Computer ChessWhile fellow mumblecore alumni the Duplass brothers and Joe Swanberg have brought their intimate, stripped-down style to a larger audience, frontrunner of that short-lived movement, Andrew Bujalski, has taken his work in a decidedly more esoteric direction. The result is the wonderfully weird and playfully dreamlike Computer Chess. Bujalski has actually taken that lo-fi template he once helped create and he’s managed to drag it back to its even fuzzier roots. Imagine an episode of The Office, crossed with George Lucas’ visually-stark monochrome 1971 debut THX 1138 and you’re still not even close to the eccentric charms on offer here.

Set sometime in the early 80s, a devoted, socially-awkward group of software programmers take over a bland hotel for a weekend dedicated to a series of computer chess tournaments. Tempers occasionally run high as contestants struggle with bug-ridden chess programs and the increasingly bizarre and inexplicable incidents which occur within the rooms and corridors of their lodgings (an infestation of cats appear to play a large part of this).

Shot in a mannered verite style, the blurry, rickety black and white imaginary (achieved by using genuine, now-antiquated, video equipment from decades back) could have very easily come across as gimmicky and one-joke in lesser hands, but Bujalski really knows how to use the material to its full cinematic advantage. Aping the look of that time (right down to the rudimentary linear editing techniques) the director offers some highly amusing moments and allows for some unnerving brief sci-fi flourishes, particularly towards the end.

Bujalski also manages to pull get some pitch perfect performances from his largely unknown cast, all of whom are clearly in tune with the material, performing in a delightfully deadpan manner. The only semi-familiar actor here is Dazed and Confused’s Wiley Wiggins, who plays a nebbish experimental psychologist. Patrick Riester (who has the look of a young David Cronenberg) impresses as a shy, buttoned-down competitor forever tinkering away with his processor, but it’s Myles Paige as cocky and confrontational computer programmer Michael Papageorge who delivers the star-making turn, becoming increasingly unhinged as the weekend begins to get the better of him. The actor’s only prior film credit is a supporting role in Bujalski’s 2002 debut, Funny Ha Ha. Let’s hope he isn’t away from the screen for another decade.

A loving salute to geekdom, Computer Chess is quite unlike anything else in the 2013 cinematic calendar. Apart from being wholly original, it’s often richly-observed and occasionally laugh-out loud hilarious, and easily sits amongst the very best this his year has to offer. It will fill you full of nostalgia for the analogue era, which is quite a feat in this pristine, HD-obsessed world.