Sci Fi London 2020 – Shorts (part 4 of 4)

SciFi London 2020 had a selection of 41 excellent short films this year. Check out my reviews for shorts 31-41.


SPACE CLEANERS

Directed by Marco Hülser, this short was about the day in a life the team responsible for clearing and monitoring space space debris! Sort of like garbage people, but in SPACE! It’s shot in a docu style, so I genuinely don’t know if this is real or not… Can someone tell me?! The docu interviews various people in the organisation in operations and films their day to day and the difficulties of clearing items that don’t send a signal back to them, pinpointing their position. It’s filmed at a real satellite base and shows them monitoring items which pose substantial risk if they were to hit earth, as well as collision avoidance manoeuvres for changing satellites courses to avoid debris. It reminds us all that this debris may not pose a massive problem now, but later down the line, this is an environmental problem over decades, one we should be aware is a problem. Really interesting to watch. I’m guessing it’s real but if not, totally valid points.

STRENGTH TEST

Directed by Liu Yixuan, Jin Lilai, Shen Leyi, this short is an adaption from a novel of the same name. It’s an animation about a robot virus, and the robots attack people in a train carriage and then store them by their necks because it’s safest… I think that this is a student film but I thought the animation will date quite badly. Also was really confused about what was actually happening, so I’m sure if the above is the wrong interpretation. I personally didn’t enjoy this film.

THE HARBOUR

Directed by Sam Ainsworth, this short follows two partners Fred and Joe doing a VR property viewing. They drink an unusual blue tea concoction which seems to drug and transport them to a different part of the country and they’re taken to view “their new lives” at Number 1 The Harbour. The architect has designed the perfect house of his dreams and talks of “adjustments” they will need to make. It is clear that the adjustments he talks of would involve them leaving their real lives to stay there (or that’s my impression). They are told they can leave at any point but once they own it, not even the Architect can touch it, but none of it is real… Joe agrees but there’s a catch. Odd film. The twist at the end, I just wonder what the consequences of them agreeing to the house is to their real human forms which isn’t explored. Otherwise strange take on virtual worlds. The soundtrack is curious and ominous.

THE IMMORTAL

Directed by Carl Firth, this short explores the topic of everlasting life. After his dad dies suddenly, the protagonist seeks the key to immortality and finds it. This film shows technology as it advances and society crumbles, the loves in his life grow old and die, but he’s still there. Eventually the sun expands, engulfing earth and he’s just out there floating in space… The ending is just really sad. I think we all think sometimes we do want to live forever, but between this and The Good Place, I think just a bit longer would be enough for me.. Amazing CGI. It’s all about the visual effects really. Just go watch it. Well acted. Really good concept. Check it out.

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH

CN: rape / Directed by April Phillips, this film is about a vaccine which eradicates birth defects. Two years late, following a massive pandemic which causes human’s bodies to attack themselves, Annie is the sole survivor broadcasting a message to others in a hope to find people out there. There’s some references in there to I am Legend with the mannequin, when she wakes up asking them “why didn’t you wake me?!” She reveals that she was visited by a disabled man named Max (he has down syndrome) who she has locked away thinking him a threat. Her message reaches a pig of a man named Carter who threatens to rape her at gunpoint and the disabled man literally saves her life from him, not that she deserves it after chaining him up. He then walks away… The message, which the woman says at the end is that “nobody’s perfect”. I have really mixed feelings about this film. It’s one of only two films in the whole festival that has a disabled person that I could see (the other being Logan Lee’s mum who is in a wheelchair) but seeing this story was kind of disappointing. One part of me is like yay the message, and yay a down syndrome actor… like how often does that happen… but the fact that this character is treated so badly, I really don’t like seeing him subjected that way. In that moment, he is a victim and I guess the end of the film that definition changes and he becomes a hero so that’s amazing. But also can disabled people just be cast in normal-ass roles where they’re not polarised as victims or a threat? Where the fact that they are disabled is not a talking point for your movie, it’s not some bigger teaching moment for able bodied people but just one part of a spectrum that makes them who they are…. This is not necessary specifically a gripe about this movie being made because it’s amazing even if I do have these mixed feelings, but it’s about the industry not writing real characters for disabled people as a whole tbh. Come on peeps. We can do better.

THE RECEPTION

Directed by Sean Peter Sakamoto, this short film has some famous faces and follows the story of two men who are hiding in a bunker following a militia attack on the eve of their son’s wedding. They bond over their love for them as the bombs close in on them. Not much to this story but it’s just a story about the love of their two gay sons and just love in general. Wonderful piece. Seems like it’s a piece of theatre rather than film.

THE SECOND HEARING

Directed by Stuart Black and Nick Mather, this short is set in a futuristic prison where the prisoner Graham attends an AI hearing which re-enacts his crime and tries to determine if he would re-offend. In the process, his parole is denied. Not much to it really. Great visual effects, simple concept. It’s an okay film. I didn’t find the story that interesting tbh.

THE SNATCHER

Directed by Christopher McGill, this short film is based in a draconian dystopia. Two families are competing head to head on a TV show called The Snatcher. The questions reveal the dark state that the UK has dwindled into and the game is rigged to punish those who need help the most. It’s a pretty great social commentary in the theme of televised Hunger Games-esque, and leaves you feeling really un-satisfied, by which I mean this is intentional and a byproduct of it having been written really well.. The ending is like a kick in the stomach.

UTOPIA

Directed by Kosta Nikas, this short film is about Utopia, Australia. Police no longer exist as anyone can fine anyone else for breaking the rules by taking a picture of a crime (for a commission). There are cameras in every room and things like drinking, smoking etc is illegal or fineable. Think Demolition man when Sylvester Stalone got out of cryogenic freezing, but Aussie plus totalitarianism. Apparently bathrooms are the only free space which isn’t monitored. Nice concept. Tying in our obsession with our phones was a cool touch, and the ending was a nice twist.

WE CHOOSE TO GO

Directed by Marlene Emilia Rios, this short film centres around protagonist Angie who is woken by Nova (a spaceship’s computer) from cryogenic freezing. She is on board The Horizon which has been drifting directionless for 63 years. The remainder of her crew are not showing any vital signs, and she is the lone survivor; the odds of her survival are extremely slim. The footage is intersected with memories of the romantic partner she left behind on Earth; the project was only supposed to be for 10 years. It was an okay film. The CGI was great, I liked the look of the ship. The story was really simple. I think that Angie would have massively regretted not going if she had stayed, and probably would have resented her partner. So the fact that it’s called ‘we choose to go’ is apt. Would she have still chosen to go had she known the challenges she would face? Probably not right but I don’t feel like the shots of her partner are a sign of regret, but something bittersweet. Anyway, yeah it was an okay film. Love seeing a lead protagonist woman in space!  

ZWART

Directed by Tommie Geraedts, this short features a guy trying to buy tickets for Comicon and being subjected to security checks of a sexual nature which become intrusive pop ups. The ending reveals how little privacy society is now afforded… I’m not sure how I felt about it. Visual effects were decent. I’m just a bit bored of sexualising women in sci fi films rn after so many sex robots and all that… Sure the lead woman in the book was also reading Fifty shades of grey (which is a problematic text in the first place) but no men are visually sexualised. It’s not like he has to do a bunch of security checks of willies haha. I’m just a bit done with it, and I know I’m not the only one.

Thanks to all the creators for making and bringing these shorts to SciFi London 2020. I believe these shorts are no longer available to watch but do seek them out. My particular faves and the ones that impacted me the most from this lot were: The last man on earth and Space Cleaners (special mentions to The Immortal for its CGI and The Snatcher particularly for it’s impactful ending).

Hope you got something from these shorts reviews. I did, so many different ideas this year and lots to consider! As usual, my opinions are just that and I would never tell someone not to watch something if I don’t like it. That’s REALLY not my jam so please go watch these and please tell me what YOU thought because I want those conversations.

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Sci Fi London 2020 – Shorts (part 3 of 4)

SciFi London 2020 had a selection of 41 excellent short films this year. Check out my reviews for shorts 21-30.


I’LL BE BACK TOMORROW

Directed by The Summers Brothers, this short was a late edition to SciFi London 2020. A woman wakes from a nightmare about someone called Karen using witchcraft where she is told “I’ll be back tomorrow”. She tells her guy who confirms he had talked to Karen earlier that day and that everything she is saying she saw in her dream had been said, word for word. They then hear a strange noise downstairs. He goes down to check it out and sees an eerie shadowed presence which disappears. He returns to the room and says everything is fine, OR IS IT?!?!? Creepy scratchy horror sounds throughout, making this a very tense film and making me question why I decided to watch this in the damn dark! Oh my gosh the ending made me yell. So very creepy. Thanks a lot Summers Bros, I’m not gonna sleep again ever and I’m pretty sure it’s your fault (haha just kidding… OR AM I)

POLVOTRON 500

Directed by Silvia Conesa, this short is set in a futuristic time. The protagonist Charly regularly sleeps in a run down booth called POLVOTRON 500 (apparently it’s cheaper to sleep there than his home). He accidentally activates an intelligent sex hologram called Nicky and a 10 minute timer begins. They strike up a conversation making a connection and she tells him that she hates it there and that she needs to get out. I enjoyed this short. I loved for once that despite the hologram being intended for sexual purposes, the protagonist had no interest in that and seemed to want to save her, or at least that’s what was implied by the ending. Would be interested to see where this story goes. How does he save her?! There has to be a way!

POP DOWN

Directed by James Button, this short follows Jess who is experiencing a quarter life crisis. After she opens the window in a state of despair about her life, a stranger who “fancied a chat” pops in her first-floor window(!) and starts talking to her, telling her that she needs a “tour guide”. She pulls him into her window (I mean who does that with a complete stranger?!) and he reveals that he is a vegan alien who tells her she is lost. “I chose white male on the settings, apparently the easiest setting in this world” he says, which made me snarf. The alien asks her if she’s faulty and that she seems a bit lost also, giving her some advice before running off into the night. Cute, kind of random story about connecting but it wasn’t really my thing. If this was really an alien and Jess was the only human he met, it would be a pretty mediocre meeting to take back to his homeworld, which is probably what’s charming about it. Gotta say though, if it were me and someone popped in my window, I would not pull him in and have chats. I would probably have cracked him in the face with a solid item… Maybe that’s why I’m not allowed to meet aliens.

POPULAR TROPES

Directed by Dries Vergauwe, this short is about a pandemic. It’s the winter and the rich are inside; the not so rich or lucky are forced to collect the dead wearing hasmat suits. From the looks of it, the pandemic has ravaged humanity. Whilst on site, bagging a dead body, an employee listens to a message from a loved one saying that maybe they will see each other when this is all over. There’s this bleak malaise that is smeared over everything in this world. There’s snow, no one is walking in the streets, everything looks dull and mainly monochrome to match the mood; humans are barely living. It’s funny that the title is ‘Popular Tropes’ because what happens on screen is a popular trope for pandemic/crisis/zombie films (though this film is obviously not the latter). Yeah, HELLA bleak. I think the lack of any sound really adds to that. There wasn’t much to the acting; there was one bit where the protagonist was trying to bag this person and it was probably long to show how awful and difficult it was but it seemed clunky almost. When there’s not a lot to see, I think those sorts of things really stick out, you know?

PROGENY

CN: rape / Directed by Justin Daering, the short is in a world where an alien has saved humanity from the brink of extinction, and the ‘price of admission’ for doing so is that human males need to receive alien parasites from hosts.. It seems that many couples accept this with consent (exclaiming “we’re gonna be hosts!”) but it is clear that is not always the case. The main male protagonist (I didn’t catch his name) works as an operative at a metal mill and is invited to a duck shooting gathering with the boss Mr Walton (an alien). His wife Anna who is a nurse at a local hospital is excited that this might be a promotion opportunity but when he gets there, as soon as he is alone, the boss attacks and rapes him implanting the parasite in his neck. He’s obviously feels violated by this and when he explains what happens, his wife at first doesn’t believe him (asking how did you get approved/ did you even go hunting/did you say something to him about us wanting to be hosts). He’s also warned by a colleague that this is the price of being promoted and that he should be thankful. He attempts to remove the parasite himself, which is an illegal act and extremely dangerous, almost dying in the process but Anna saves him and they go onto have a physical altercation later with Mr Walton… So this story is so harrowing but it’s almost the perfect metaphor for rape… Hear me out. Honestly I feel like for any people (specifically cis and conservative men) who genuinely don’t understand abortions and don’t even think that women should be permitted them in the instances of rape, they should take one look at this film and I’m certain they would change their mind. It really just comes down to having autonomy over one’s body. Even the language that they use in the film is tantamount to what a woman hears from ignorant people if they have been raped by someone prominent in her/their community, e.g. “This is how guys like us get ahead in life… no one’s going to believe you”. Yeah simply amazing work. Really difficult to watch and very intense. I would recommend watching it when you have people in your life who can support you afterwards because me watching it as a sexual assault survivor, it made me feel pretty ill but Jesus fucking Christ man, this honestly should be shown as a teaching point. Lastly, the title was the name of a film where a woman was pregnant with an alien baby so this is probably a homage I bet. Standout film

SEDUCED

Directed by Keren Chernizon, this short follows Samantha who is having a bad day when she gets a call from Josh from ‘Conscious Buy’ about a dress she was going to purchase. He talks her into buying the dress and after doing so, he disappears. It turns out it was an AI!! This is only a three minute story but shows how difficult it might be in the future to distinguish real humans from AI. Enjoyable watch but a bit basic.

SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE

Directed by Robert Summers, this short is about Anna Morgan who is visited by Homeland Security following a temporal incident which poses a massive threat. Anna denies knowing anything about this, but it appears she has been dreaming about this for some time. “It’s not one thing, it’s a what and a where” she is told, by a version of herself. With this information she finds coordinates to a tree and digs to find a case with a triangular symbol on it. It’s a time machine which she has apparently invented in another timeline… “Time is a knife… it’s a cut, slice away piece by piece until one day it’s all gone…” As a character, she seems to be like an ouroboros, the snake eating it’s own tail into infinity; maybe she always existed. An enjoyable little film.

SKYWATCH

Directed by Colin Levy, this short is about a futuristic world with delivery drones run by a massive corporation called NEX Port and some teenage hackers who are tampering with food delivery services in their building block by swapping them with other orders in the locality. However, the drone they try to do this to has an error and falls out of the sky. They check it out and find out it’s part of a project called Osprey, and it is an experimental and dangerous weapon. Excellent CGI but looking at the team that made it happen (hint it it massive) I’m not surprised. Simple but interesting concept. It’s nice to have a story that fights THE MAN. Wish there was more diversity in the lead protagonists though, because it appears both the leads are white boys as per normal, though the two people that save him are a woman and a Person Of Colour so that’s cool. Very surprising cameo from a famous actor who is THE BADDIE!! Think this would make an excellent feature film and it’s probably already in the process of being made; I think this short was crowdfunded looking at the credits so we’ll see where this goes!

SNOWFLAKES

Directed by Faye Jackson this short centres around an immigration centre in the UK. A woman is told she is being taken forcibly taken ‘home’ to Jamaica on a plane. Another woman who has been in the UK for 40 years since she was a child and has indefinite leave to remain is also being taken away. She does not know anyone in Jamaica. The management are all white men – classic – with one exception, and the head guy instructs the latter of the women to be sedated for the trip. It seems that the nurse makes a mistake and gives the woman a vial of a virus rather than the sedative (that’s my theory, anyway, or it could be coincidental timing), which causes all the white people to spontaneously explode into dust. It’s firstly a good social commentary about how fucked the immigration system is in the UK. Excellent reggae soundtrack, from what I heard in the short. This is such an original and weird film, I would love to see it made. Though I have questions: what if you’re part black part white/asian like me? I don’t want part of me to be dust! haha Please make this into a feature.

SNOWGLOBE

Directed by Tim Rush, this short begins at a frozen wasteland. Pilot Robin seeks her co-pilot Jay and her ship and is haunted by creepy dreamlike scenes of a strange red, horned creature. She manages to find some of her equipment and hears message from base saying Jay is gone and that she should forget her, that recovery will be there soon but she doesn’t want to leave her behind. Soon she is chased by the creature she saw in her dream, who looks a mix between Alien, Predator, a deer and a giant. To be honest, I didn’t really like this one. I found it so so difficult to see what was happening during the snowstorm which I guess was the point but probably a touch less would have gone a lone way. The landscaping CGI was beautiful, i.e. the red mountains, the swarming birds and so on. I dunno, I wasn’t into it.

Thanks to all the creators for making and bringing these shorts to SciFi London 2020. I believe these shorts are no longer available to watch on their website, but do seek them out if you like how they sound. My particular faves from this lot were: Progeny and Snowflake. I’ll be adding reviews for the remaining shorts shortly!

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I am Ren [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“They want you to think you did it…”


Directed by Piotr Ryczko, this film follows Ren (Renata), mother to Kam and wife to Jan. As a family, they seem like the image of contentedness and perfection until one day Jan comes home to a house in complete disarray and Kam and Ren in a state of despair and shock. Ren is bruised all over her body as is Kam, and she has intrusive memories of two men she doesn’t know observing her. Whilst recovering, she overhears her husband talking to two men that she has malfunctioned and that she should be packed up and thrown away. Ren is taken to a psychiatrist who asks her what has happened and she tells him that she is REN, an android and that it is an error. Her memory is fractured and she is unable to remember what went on that day. A woman called Ela tells her “humans might have some memory loss, but not you” and asks her if she can run a diagnostic and access her memories with a special key to find out what has happened, further insinuating that Ren’s husband cannot be trusted. Ren goes to her son Kam to find answers saying she believes she has been with him for only three years, but he shows her pictures which contradicts this belief.

Later, Ela accesses her memories and Ren sees the father Jan beating the child and talks Kam into running away with her. To prevent capture, she jumps into a frozen lake but is caught and has to remain for further psychiatric care. Whilst in care, she sees an advert for REN androids that ends up being about a toy and her belief structure begins to fall apart. The film ends on her seeing her family but there is someone with them. DUN DUN DAHHHHHH!!!

Wow what can I say. I thought this was a well made film, and what a great film to close the festival with. I know I’m going to be thinking about it for some time to come, because the ending was really ambiguous. I’m not sure which parts of what I saw was actually real. You could view it as a film about mental health and the ending is about a broken women seeing what her mind is projecting or she really was a REN android, and the unit she was taken to was for broken androids or they’d be turned into parts eventually. I like that ambiguity of the whole film. Particularly because the person REN befriends (Ela) feeds into her and my own (as the viewer) paranoia.

I don’t remember much of a soundtrack so I think it was pretty low key, and the visuals were kept pretty normal with quite monochrome and dull colours in the cinematography and costuming. So it’s really all about the story. The lake scene where you see her in the water after she has jumped in looks pretty rad. It’s quite an iconic looking scene. They hold her there for a while to savour the moment of her sinking.

So all in all, top film. Really enjoyed it. Nice concept and twists. I don’t know what to believe happened, even now. Nothing super flashy about the cinematography, but it was a well written story I thought. Go watch it.

Thanks SciFi London 2020 for putting these feature and short films up. I’ve got a few more short film reviews to share, but I’ve had such a ball watching all of these stories. The bar has been very high this year and I cannot wait for 2021. I liked having a virtual viewing just because I’m quite a home-body and I like writing/typing my thoughts as I go, which you can’t do in a real cinema, so I hope you have a virtual offering for future fests (thank you plz plz plz)! See you next year!

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