The Innocents [2021]

“Mama? What do you do when someone’s mean?”


The Innocents was directed by Eskil Vogt, and released in 2021. It was the first feature film of the 2022 sci-fi-london.com festival. It’s a Norwegian/Finnish film. 

In the beginning of the film, a family have moved to a new area in what I believe is rural Norway. The family is made up of a mother and father (you never learn what their names are) and their two children Ida and Anna. Anna is the eldest of the two and is a non-verbal autistic child, probably early teens, and her younger sister is Ida. It’s clear from the start that Ida has an almost sadistic quality to her personality, as she will often pinch Anna to try to get a response from her but Anna, of course, cannot talk. When they move in it’s the summer so the block they live in is very quiet with very few families present, and they grapple with living in this new area. One of the first scenes is where Ida stands by the bank of a small lake and it is across the water that she sees a young boy, who she will later come to learn is Ben. 

Ida’s mother encourages her to go play in the local area and she does so. She formally meets Ben, who is similarly a loner and pretty soon they are spending many days together playing. Soon Ida learns that Ben has some sort of magic ability to move things with his mind which he demonstrates to Ida. They seem to have a similar sadism and there is a traumatising scene where they drop a kitten down a stairwell in glee (Ben uses it as practice for his abilities) but when Ida realises the kitten is actually hurt and sees Ben crush its skull, she knows that they have gone to far and she begins to distance herself from him. 

One day, Ida’s mother asks her to take Anna with her out to play. Anna then befriends a girl called Aisha who also appears to have a special ability which allows her to connect with Anna. Aisha is able to hear what Anna is saying in her mind and feel what she’s feeling, and soon she is even able to assist Anna in talking. There’s a couple scenes where Aisha mouths words and Anna is then able to say them herself which is revealed eventually to Ida and Anna’s parents (though they are unaware that mystical powers have anything to do with why this has happened). Aisha, Anna, Ida and Ben then spend time together; I’m guessing all is forgiven between Ida and Ben’s earlier kitten episode. However there is a clash when Ben becomes angry and lashes out. Anna squares up to Ben in that moment, as he threatens to use his powers to hurt Aisha, and it is clear that Anna bestows similar powers to Ben. The clash causes a ripple forcing a tree to fall and part of it goes into Anna’s leg. Ben runs off, and Ida/Aisha take Anna home. Anna’s mother is angry at Ida for not saying how this happened and blames her for not having looked after her properly (which she later apologises about). 

We see snapshots of Ben’s life behind the scenes with his mother. It seems like his mother is quite abusive towards him. At one point he snaps, and while his mother is boiling a pot of water, we see him use his powers to pour the boiling pot of water onto his mum and smash the pot over her head. She slowly dies on the kitchen floor while he just sort of looks on. Later we see moments of regret in Ben but overall, he appears to be quite nonchalant about the whole ordeal. 

Tension is obviously building, and Ben is becoming obviously progressively more dangerous. We see him break the leg of another child, and later take over the body of an adult man to murder another young boy from the block. Aisha and Anna tell Ida that they have to stop Ben, that he is out of control and they want her help but Ida refuses. Before they can, Ben takes over the body of Aisha’s mother and forces her to violently stab Aisha to death. Without Aisha, Anna goes back to being non-verbal. In her frustration and concern now that Aisha/Anna can no longer protect them, and worrying that Ben will be coming for them, Ida decides that she’s going to take matters into her own hands and lures Ben to an overpass where she pushes him off the side. She is seen by an adult and bolts. Ben, unhurt, then pursues her and in the process Ida is hit by a car and breaks her leg. 

The latter section of the film is the aftermath. Ida returns from hospital but the threat of Ben is still very real. Summer rolls over, and families have returned from their holidays by this point so the streets are bubbling with families. Anna leaves the flat to finally confront Ben, and Ida pursues with her cast and crutches (before eventually tearing at it to allow her to get to her sister). She finds Anna by the bank of the small lake in the playground area and holds Anna’s hand in a sort of united front against Ben (the proximity to the lake is reminiscent of the early scene, where Ida first sees Ben). There is a silent and tense stare-down and you can see ripples forming on the surface of the water. Ben then stumbles backwards to this swing set, looking wildly around the block; it appears that other children have abilities too and they are closely watching Ben. There is a crescendo of sound until finally Ben slumps in the seat of a swing, presumably murdered by Anna and co. And then everyone goes back to their normal activities and the camera pans away. 

So, I think the first thing to acknowledge is that there is something problematic about this film, in that the autistic character, Anna, was actually played by a neuro-typical (not autistic) actress. This comes up so much in film. I do think she acted fantastically and this is not a gripe at the actress at all, but the disabled community often call for disabled characters to be played by disabled actors. The reason for this is non-disabled actors often act those characters in over-the-top ways that can be very harmful to disabled people. Disabled actors are also more likely to reflect autistic traits in a way where it will be treated with respect, and not make a caricature out of autistic/disabled people.. Not to mention that representation is so important. There are plenty roles of neuro-typical, able-bodied characters out there… That’s not to say that a non-disabled person can’t treat a role like this with respect, and to be fair to Alva Brynsmo Ramstad she honestly played this character so so well, but I do think that it’s important to acknowledge this and advocate for authentic representation. 

Really loved that Aisha’s character was played by Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, which is a young actess with vitiligo, a condition which is not really represented in film.

The film was held up basically by four children, ranging from like 8 years old to <16. I think often when you see child actors in film, they overact in a way that doesn’t seem believable but with this film, I was so taken by these kids. They act with a certain gravitas that only comes with much older actors, yet they were totally believable and really held my attention in a way that I would not have expected from child actors. So that just goes to show how capable these actors and actresses were. 

I really liked that there were adults in this film but it was almost like they were absent, you know? I think that was done intentionally to put real focus on these children, and that if the adults would have taken more of a front stage approach, the dynamic would have shifted somewhat. Like you would have automatically seen them in more of a Parent-Child dynamic which would have taken away the strength and self reliance of those characters. There definitely were moments of that… like where Ida and her mother embrace close to the end of the film… Thinking about it, I think that’s probably how they did that. There were very few scenes in the film where adults and children had physical closeness, like you would expect in a Parent-Child dynamic, so I think that lended itself to this approach to make the children the focal point. Most of the times where the adults came into contact with the kids, it was shrouded in tragedy (until the summer families returned and then there were lots of kiddos and parents and something shifted in that part of the film). The adults weren’t totally gone, and you got to see a little bit of their own worries in that world, but they definitely took a back seat to the kiddos. 

I guess another criticism I would have of this film is their choice of the actor who plays Ben being the baddie. Like yes, he is a boy and it’s great that they’re putting a focus firstly on girls and disabled characters as the heroines in this film, but he is a Person of Colour… AND not only that but he is a darker skin toned POC, as with his mother who was physically abusive to his character. Aisha was also a POC but had lighter skin. Her mother had darker skin but also inevitably murders Aisha. Now you may not understand why that’s a problem, but from what I understand, People of Colour routinely either don’t see themselves in film or when they do see themselves they are the aggressors, or the terrorists, or a monster, something or someone to be frightened about, or a caricature of person. So their choices of who played what, and what they ended up doing and how they were portrayed as the story unfolded didn’t sit all that well with me, despite thinking that the actors in those roles were damn good at their job. 

I like that you never really know why these children have these powers and the characters approach it in a way that’s just so very childlike. I guess I’m used to Marvel or DC films where someone discovers they have a new power, then they do a montage where they are learning about their power and showing it off to people or trying to hide it. However in this film, it’s approached in such a matter-of-fact sort of way where the origin isn’t a focus. It’s just instantly accepted that there is something about this place that means some children have special abilities. It’s a very refreshing approach. 

I think it is so important that Anna is the one who ends up being the saviour in this film, with her being a disabled character, and I like that even though early on it seems like Anna can only really take on Ben with Aisha’s help, later it turns out she had strength all along and that she didn’t need Aisha at all to defeat Ben. Although I wonder if the onlookers had any part to play. I suspect not because you see those ripples coming off of Anna and hitting the lake so I think that power is genuinely being generated just by her. 

And I wonder what happened in the aftermath, like what happened when they discovered Ben’s mother’s body? And why did did the adults have zero awareness that the kiddos in this block were a little unusual and why that might be and why all these weird tragedies were spontaneously happening at the same time? So mysterious. 

So overall, there’s a lot to think about with this film. I was say it was likely my favourite film of the festival and it blew me away. Acted well. Great concept. Well written. Sometimes I thought maybe it might be too slow because it was very Nordic, in that slow paced, quiet sort of way, but I think on balance none of that took anything away from the film. It actually allowed it to breathe and I felt like I was so invested in the film in those moments of stillness. Like I said in another blog, I was really stoked to see that this film is now streaming, and I wish the film the greatest success.

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Sci-Fi-London.com 2022 – Shorts

sophfifest.com on the best of sci-fi-london.com’s film festival shorts for 2022


I’ve been on a little sophfifest.com hiatus so I’m doing a little catch up now. You might notice quite a few blogs released today. Enjoy!! Life took over but now I’m back! Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me and have been reading and subscribing to these blogs. This is really just a hobby for me so I appreciate your support!

So, SciFiLondon came back with a vengeance this year, returning to their normal summer-ish schedule. I didn’t see as many films as I would have liked to have seen this year so I was really grateful that they put their shorts programme online so I could watch everything at least from that programme. I also managed to watch ‘The Innocents’ which I will do a separate post for. Excellent film. Deffo recommend you check it out if you haven’t. I was really stoked to see it is already streaming, so go find it.

This year’s programme was separated into themed groups. In the past I’ve written a brief synopsis and feels post for each film but I decided this year that I would just make special mention to those shorts hich I particularly enjoyed.

Signal Dark

So, the first film that I really enjoyed was called Signal Dark. It was directed by Alex Murray and released in 2022. It’s based around a character called Lucas Anderson, whose life has turned upside down when he stumbles across a mysterious email and its reality bending contents. Lucas seems to work as an IT guy in a server room and he opens an email, sees a mysterious transmission which he plays and in almost Alice in Wonderland proportions, he ends up discovering that this weird sound transports him to another time in the future. He obviously gets very spooked by that and tries to not play it again but it seems that he gets transported regardless and finds himself on a beach, confronted by a tentacled monster (which is where the film ends).

I thought overall the visuals for the film were really spectacular. I enjoy shorts that transcend or don’t use any language, so any person from any country can participate. I think that’s what makes this film so accessible. A couple things did bother me about the film though. I think anyone who works in IT would know that you don’t open random email attachments especially when working with servers. That struck me as not being totally realistic lol. I also think more could have been left unsaid in terms of the final monster. I think part of what is so scary in film sometimes is what ISN’T shown to the viewer. In this case, the end monster comes out of the mist and it reveals its face and that was reductive for me. I kinda wish just the tentacles as I think that was spooky enough. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this short.

Apotheosis

This film was directed by Max Pearce and debuted this year, 2022. So the premise is that Selene dreams of working on the first space colony. However, she is a ‘naturally’ born human living in a world that favours the genetically engineered. This obviously means she is not super privileged; she lives in a very small apartment with her engineer mother who works in what sounds like a warehouse and has a bionic arm she made herself. On the offset, we learn that her mother has lost her job at the plant and Selene promises to pull them out of the funk they are in by making it to this space colony, which appears to be an impossibility as a ‘natural’ human. The impression given is that the genetically engineered have a significant leg up in life and it is unlikely Selene will be able to compete. There’s also early reference to a friendship Selene has with a rich guy, GM human called Fabrizio. You know the type… Rich guy, rich daddy. Selene and Fabrizio both take the theory test to work on the colony. She performs pretty well and is telling Fabrizio she did the test in 20 or so minutes and is proud of herself, and he smugly tells her he performed it in less time which I thought was really rude and is a precursor to how he will behave later on. That he can’t be happy for his friend tells you everything you need to know about the guy. In the physical element of the test, participants are required to swim a number of lengths within a certain amount of time (I think it’s like five minutes) and he finishes well before because of his modification and she ends up falling short by maybe 1 second. Everyone tells her she should be proud of the results but of course she just narrowly lost out on her dream and a lot was at stake so she can’t really be happy in that moment. She and Fabrizio hang out at his rich person house and she is obviously still upset, but then the his father Rusk comes to talk to them and tell her how impressed he is with her, offering to pull some strings at the space colony to allow her a second chance (turns out he is the magnate who owns it, so you best believe he has the power to make this call). This does not go down well with Fabrizio who completely flips out and he says he doesn’t think she should get the opportunity. Regardless, she ends up being successful in the physical, and both of them are required to do one final test (sorta like a virtual reality zero gravity test where they spin them a number of times and get them to do space scenarios). To help her out, her mother engineers a modification which attaches to Selene’s spine. In the programme, Fabrizio ends up fainting and despite a malfunctioning modification which makes it hard for Selene to move, Selene ends up saving him and the test, and you can see this leaves her feeling sort of vindicated because despite not being modified, she was the one who had to help HIM. The end scene is of Selene and her mother at the colony.

So, there’s obviously a big influence on this film by the film Gattaca, which if you haven’t seen you should watch. I liked how real the film felt in terms of the tech. Obviously it wasn’t a very high budget film but I thought that made it charming. I felt like I did want to get behind Selene and her challenges, which I think is a testament to the great writing of this story. I had a couple issues. Firstly I was really curious to know what happened to Fabrizio, did he make it through. I guess it’s one of those things where it doesn’t really matter if that loop is closed or not at the end, and it’s just as good to imagine what became of him but I was still curious. I was also wondering why there weren’t more people shown competing for a position at the end phase. I thought perhaps that spoke to just how challenging it is to get there but it turns out that the film was shot during the pandemic and restrictions made for siginificant challenges in filming! I think all in all this lended itself to the idea that the programme was extremely challenging so it probably worked out in the director’s favour! I wondered what would have happened if Selene hadn’t been given a pass to try again with the physical. If she hadn’t, Fabrizio would have flaked and she wouldn’t have been there to help him, which I guess would have meant NO ONE would have gotten to the colony!

I did question the credibility of their being friends. In an elitist dystopia like this, I wonder if two people from such different backgrounds COULD be close friends, like they appeared to be. Wouldn’t the disparities get in the way of their friendship? Or maybe I’m judging him too harshly, because Selene’s character resonates more with myself and I couldn’t see myself being friends with someone as privileged. Hmm. Anyways, as you know I like when films give me a lot to reflect on, and I liked that this film made me question my own position in society and what I would do. Overall, really enjoyed this short!

Saint Android

This animated film was directed by Lukas von Berg, released in 2021. The premise of the film is that Norman’s wife is laying in hospital dying and in these final moments, he calls for guidance but it’s not exactly what he hoped for. It is suggested that Norman call for religious assistance as she will likely die momentarily. Norman accepts this and is met with a high tech android who speaks very quickly and tells him that he can recite scripture from any religion. The whole process is obviously very exasperating for Norman who tells the android he is Catholic, and in the ensuing chaos, neither of them end up noticing Norman’s wife reach out to him for support and then shortly thereafter, die.

It’s not a super complicated premise but it is incredibly well done. The animation itself is stellar. There’s something so timeless about the style of animation that the creators of this short went for. It looks very hand drawn, which I think lends to that. I think contrary to what you would imagine, a lot of modern animation ends up looking very dated. I think that the more love you put into animation, the more time that is spent meticulously drawing and inking and painting, the more timeless it is… but I am a staunch Miyazaki fan so I guess I would say that. Anyays, there’s something so humorous and tragic about this storyline… that in messing around with technology, we lose out on the human, living experience. I think this message was subtle enough that it didn’t come off as preachy (fnar fnar, religion joke) whereas other stories that focus on this subject matter sometimes do go a little far.. The problem is we have to work with what we have, with means co-existing with technology. Not shunning it.. All in all, a perfect little short.

Fieldtrip

This film was directed by Soren Bendt, released in 2022. The premise is that a man is on a mission with some comrades but the ship they are in unfortunately crashes and he has to make his way through a mine field. Little is known about the protagonist.. I don’t even remember if he had a name, but he ends up being the sole survivor of the crash. His suit is fast falling apart and he ends up having to steal certain elements for his suit from others who are dead or dying, which is sort of a moral conundrum. He ends up having to fight with his suit to gain control of it, as it comes perilously close to destroying him. Somehow he ends up fooling the suit – whose primary function is to protect him – into defaulting to its secondary objective, i.e. to dismantle these mines. The way that he does so is by basically destroying himself. He steps intentionally onto a mine. And with that, the suit goes off across the land, dismantling the mines.

The contrast between the very beginning of the short where the men are all joyously singing, and then the chaos and aftermath of the crash where you see men strewn this way and that, dead or dying is pretty stark. It’s hard to know in what capacity they are there. Were they prisoners? Were they soldiers? Volunteers? I guess it doesn’t super matter. They are there working for the government in some sort of capacity, but you don’t really know much about them besides their sense of duty. But I really wanted to know where these people were from, what were the mines keeping out, or keeping in? I believe that they were meant to be dismantling mine, which makes me wonder… if the suits were perfectly capable of dismantling the mines by themselves, why did the humans need to be there in the first place? Why bring human beings into a dangerous task that a roboto could do perfectly well? It was also interesting seeing the shift in the man when he realises that there’s no way that he is going to have a happy ending, even after all the struggle to survive, and how he sacrifices himself. Anyways, lots to think about with this one. Beautifully filmed wide, landscape shots. Nice idea. Enjoyed this a lot.

Green Food

Oh man this film lol. So this was directed by Xiaoli Liu and released 2021. The premise is that three astronauts are stranded in a spaceship with an alien corpse and have to find a way to survive while they wait to get rescued. It’s quite a simple concept. They end up being stranded for quite a long time and they have this conundrem… to eat or not to eat. They’ve been told they have to bring back the corpse for monitoring so the majority of the film is them bickering and it’s really funny/ridiculous. At one point, one of them suggest that they shoot each other to take the temptation off the table and so they don’t ruin the mission, but of course they cannot. They end up agreeing to eat this alien – to their disgust – and all that’s left is a bit of bone that they give to the astronaut when he saves them. They then discover that the alien is essentially a plant. Rejoice!

I don’t have anything really to say about this other than it was very entertaining to watch. Much of the programme was very serious so it was just fun to have a goofy reprise.

Stones

This film was directed by Joseph Brett, released in 2021. The premise is that a brother and sister have a reunion picnic at a stone circle in the English countryside. He’s returned from abroad after a failed relationship, and the sister comforts him as they drink and eat. Some time later, the sister has fallen asleep and the brother is looking at the interesting patterns on the stones. It’s sort of like it has mildew or moss in yellows and greens all over it. Soon the pattern appear to move and the brother is entranced by them. The next thing you know, the sister wakes up to find her brother gone. She tries to get everything together to go, probably assuming that he’s left her, and then when she goes to pull the picnic blanket away, the stone is sitting on the blanket and it tears. She looks at it aghast and then looks up and slowly realises what happened. That’s when the film ends.

Omg so spooky. I have chills thinking about that ending. I like that it leaves it open at the end. You don’t know if she ends up being turned to stone too, though it implies she’s about to be turned into stone as well. It doesn’t explain what the stones are, where they came from, if the brother is still alive in there or if he is killed in the process. And it’s all done in this sort of mix of animation and puppetry. I loved that the characters, whilst being British were also Asian ethnicity and you could see little references to both those senses of identity. The little bao buns, the stacked lunchbox. The hot tea in the flask. It’s really unusual to see Asian characters in anything, particularly depicted in this format and it is just really really well done. Also that idea of the stones being the spooky feature is unusual as well. I tried to think of films or TV where I have seen that happen and Medusa came to mind but that was a human/snake turning others into stone. And I thought of Doctor Who with the angels who follow and destroy you… but they were stone angels who devoured others. So, I couldn’t really think of something as unique as this. And lastly I wondered if the brother and sister end up turning others to stone? SPOOKEH!!! I really enjoyed the concept, visuals were amazing. So well done.

Good Morning Stonus

This film was directed by Christian Nicolson, released in 2022. The premise is that the main character Stonus finds himself smack in the middle of a group of people embarking on an epic battle when he only came for a free breakfast. The cast is quite sizable for a short film, which is pretty unusual. It’s set in the future, but has a real corny 70s-idea-of-space vibe, like Terry Gilliam meets Star Wars meets New Zealand. Anyways, Stonus realises that the gathering has been called forward to battle, and it is clear that this is a battle they cannot win. There’s a funny moment where this fancy schmancy Spaceman (above picture, right) is talking on his communication device, and tells someone he doesn’t think he’s going to take part on this because it’s not going to end well. Stonus tries to sneak off but then he’s caught and brought back. He offers to blow the battle horn, thinking this will keep him out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, as the action with Stonus is unfolding, a one-eyed ogre is trying to entice a lady ogre. I can’t even describe how ridiculous this side story is and how it looks, but he tries everything to get her attention. In the process, a rock is thrown which lands on Stonus. You’d think that he would be dead but he is actually fine in the end.. and that is genuinely how it is. Oh and the ogre lady ends up getting to ogre man in the end. She clumps him on the head and drags him away lolllll. So weird..

So yeah… goofy as fuck, lighthearted film. It’s definitely got a Monty Python vibe to it and everything looks like it’s been made with paper mache which I enjoy. If I can’t see the vaccum cleaner parts, I don’t wanna know. It was a great contrast to the other shorts in the festival, which as I mentioned before were on the darker or more serious side. This was pure comedy.

Rachels don’t run

This film was directed by Joanny Causse, released in 2021. The premise is that a woman called Leah works for an AI companionship organisation, fielding customer service calls. She appears to have developed feelings for a particular caller and inserts herself manually into what is normally an automative call which uses a complicated system to determine the best path of conversation. She does so without the consent of the caller. She thinks she is hitting it off with the caller but before long he interupts the conversation to ask for client services, and she is forced to switch gears to accept the call, with him not knowing that both are the same person. He tells her he thinks the AI is different and she would never say the things that she has been saying and wants it switched back, that her laugh is annoying and basically is incredibly insulting about Leah. Leah has to just accept it because, you know, she probably shouldn’t have inserted herself into it anyway.

The technology/sci-fi elements of this film are kind of irrelevant because it’s really all about the human connection, which I really enjoyed. She’s absolutely mortified by the caller’s feelings about her, and it feels so uncomfortable to watch, because there are real people behind this tech, and I guess sometimes we forget that. That awkwardness is all too relatable.

U-Run

This film was directed by Edward J Douglas, released in 2021. The premise of the film is that Jody wants a healthy destraction from a bad breakup with a real toxic douche. She signs up for a 10K training course, led by AI. The film doesn’t really explain how the tech is done but the assumption is she has an implant or a contact lens with the tech in it, implied with comparative shots. I like that this isn’t outright explained but shown; because it’s unnecessary to the plot to know how. I assumed it was an implant because Jody doesn’t seem to be able to just take the tech off, and there are points in this short where you think she should or that she might want to.. Anyways, so the AI trainer is a sort of hologram and is very attractive and fit. He motivates her and most of the scenes show him training with her over an unknown passage of time. Before long, it appears she has become unhealthily obsessed with this. At first it’s a fun distraction where she celebrates herself and feels really good about herself, but she then signs up for the next big challenge (a marathon) and she ends up running every day, watching what she is eating, cutting out communication with friends and work. There’s something so insiduous about the way the AI gradually changes as the story progresses; it reads like he is an abusive domestic partner. And of course, she’s the only person who can see him so it’s not like she can get help. Even when people reach out to her, the AI shuts them out and inevitably she chooses to isolate herself. There are points when she wants to give up and she’s like, no, I’ve had enough, I want to stop and he intentionally changes the scenery and intimidates her into thinking she is somewhere she is not, or about to be harmed. The thing is you see this behaviour from the AI when she is tired early on in the film and he makes it seem like zombies are chasing her… and at the time you think ho ho ho that’s funny, and Jody laughs about it, but the way that behaviour escalates is so spooky. She ends up refusing to continue and he stops physically being there in her line of sight. She tries to compete in a marathon without his help, thinking maybe she can do it of her own volition (all the while she can hear him sort of taunting her in her head). She ends up making it to the end. The last scene is where the AI is encouraging her to sign up for an ironman comp, and you never see what she decides to do.

Really liked the concept. It’s a nice spin on this theme of tech sort of taking over our lives, and I like how it starts really innocuous and becomes much more spooky as the story progresses. I kind of assumed that she does end up going to the next stage because by that point she is so addicted to the pain she is in. Very uncomfortable to watch in the best possible way.

Can I help? * [cn: suicide, self harm]

This film was directed by Rupert Ratcliffe, released in 2021. The premise is that a man is very lonely. He obviously works for a big organisation and is very well paid. He has been restricted from seeing his child from a previous relationship, and it is apparently the child’s birthday. You can sense the desparation in this man. He vocalises how unfair it is that his ex is preventing him from seeing his child, and is upset that her new partner has a better relationship with the kid than he has. So throughout this film, you see him kind of beating himself up about this. He asks his AI to call this woman mimicing him, because he wants to talk to his child and numerous attempts to contact the ex have been ignored. The AI says it’s against policy but that it might be possible if he upgrades. The man agrees, but decides instead that he cannot take it anymore and decides to hang himself. In the process of doing that, he hears the AI call his ex and she apologises for mistreating him and promises that he can have a relationship with his child. The film ends with the man dead.

Oh man this film is so tragic and really traumatizing because you see him reacting as he realises he has made a terrible mistake that he cannot undo. It made me wonder, hy was it the AI was able to talk his ex into reconciling in this way, where the real human had failed? It seemed like it was well within his power to turn his relationship with his ex around, if he had only held on for a little bit longer. Heartbreaking film. The tech seems secondary to the main focus of the film which is the theme of isolation and mental health but I guess this is a common theme with tech. Over-reliance of tech instead of real human connection is so isolating, and I guess this is the particular outcome of this difficult situation.

Bebe A.I. [cn: ableism]

This film was directed by Rebekah Fortune, released in 2021. The premise is that a young couple with Down’s syndrome want to adopt an AI baby and are denied one (by a very surprising character/actress… the great Amanda Abbington.. I actually did a squee when I saw her). Presumably the couple have been unable to carry their own birth child or it is common for people in this dystopian future to be unable to carry. Abbington’s character tells them they are not the right calibre of person to look after such a baby because of their disability. Honestly it’s pretty upsetting to hear her turn them down in this prejudicial way, and I fully believed her to be a dick in this role. A rogue android, dressed as a sort of matron, ends up helping them get an AI baby and the end scenes are of the couple running away, pursured by Abbington’s drones.

There’s a lot of questions I had about about why this particular android turned on the overlord. Like was there something wrong with its circuitry? Or does it have the autonomy to choose? On the outside it seemed very animatronic and thoughtless. There wasn’t much to the film, but the idea of being denied something that is a human right because of something out of the couple’s control, something which has no bearing on their abilities to parent, was jarring. I imagine it speaks to a lot of people with disabilities in a very real and present-day sort of way. I’d really like to see more of this particular film because it was so short and want to know they escaped.

Submittan

This film was directed by Susumu Kimura, released in 2021. The premise of the film is that Chase is an artist and she takes a job to design a poster for an ad campaign which turns out to be total propaganda… Chase is a single parent with two children trying to make ends meet. In the first scene, you see her making lunch for her children and putting two slices of bread and the tiniest squares of cheese in the middle to spread out what seems to be incredibly limited resources. So obviously they are very poor. At first it seems like the norm in this world as everything is dusty and lots of people are without, but then when you see the more affluent classes, you see that is not the case… The world she lives in relies on this software which says your age and status in the world. Everywhere she goes, you can see posters for something called The Mountain. It’s painted in a fantastical way like a mecca for old people and characters in the film talk about their perspective of the place, that it must be like some sort of fun party. In one scene, Chase is on a bus, and it is stopped by police who check everyone’s wrist IDs and end up hauling an older man off, presumably to take him to The Mountain. He protests, saying he had wanted to go to the river. It’s not really clear what these things mean at this point, but obviously there’s something weird going on. Chase has a close relationship with the people in her community, and you can see she has empathy for her older neighbours, who offer to help her. Anyways, so she shows the execs she is freelancing for this poster art she has made for them which is of an older person on the back of someone else with wording on it like devotion or dedication (I can’t remember, but that sentiment). At first they are mocking of it, but then Chase explains the story behind it, that when her grandmother was old, she was carried to The Mountain so her family would not starve and that this sacrifice was a measure of devotion to one’s society. The executives thought that was amusing and she is paid for the work. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that this actually happened, and it shows the true nature of The Mountain. That in this dystopia, older generations are ritualistically sacrificed so that there are more resources to go round for the rest of the population. You never get to see the gruesome end of these older peeps (like in the film Midsommar) but the premises they are taken to near The Mountain are ominous-looking enough that I was certain that it was much like a concentration camp. The end scene is of Chase taking her elderly neighbour to the supposed safety of The River to escape, and Chase’s defiant face as you hear the authorities approaching.

This was one of my top faves from the festival. It’s really well shot and I think this could (and should) be turned into a full feature film. I really think that it has good bones and I want to know more! Like does Chase take on the government? Who is behind this? Why did they take this path in the first place? Does her neighbour survive? What actually happens to people who get taken to The Mountain? The ominous peak of the mountain, the way that it looms in the shots is so spooky, and the film- as do I – yells: Please, please give me more. Excellent film.

Special mentions:

  • Excellent monologue in ‘The last mechanic’ – not one of my faves but really well acted.
  • Bunker: The last fleet – Probably the only film in the festival which featured indigenous peoples. Entertaining. Mad max vibes but better. Super badass characters.

As ever, thanks Sci-Fi-London.com to bringing so many entertaining and thought-provoking films to my life <3 For more stuffs from SciFiLondon, click here for their website.

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Alphaville [1965]

Do you know what illuminates the night? Poetry.


Alphaville is a 1965 new wave, science fiction, neo noir film which was directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Despite the film having themes of dystopia, it was filmed with no special props or futuristic CGI and you can really feel that. There’s something about it that teeters sometimes between dated and timeless. I can’t put a finger on why, but I suspect the lack of CGI has something to do with it.

So, the protagonist of the film is Lemmy Caution, a secret agent. He’s travelling to a city known as Alphaville posing as a a journalist. He’s trying to find the missing agent, Henri Dixon, and later his objectives change as he tries to capture/kill the creator of Alphaville and destroy the computer than runs the city (called Alpha 60). The main premise of the film is that the city has outlawed free thought, poetry, emotions and love. It is not altogether clear how utopic this doctrine has made the city compared to the outer lands. With a lot of later ‘utopic’ themed films, it is immediately obvious how ruling out such things creates unity in its people… because people seem calm, or their cities are prestine looking, there’s no crime (supposedly) and so on. All of this is important to represent why these things had to be outlawed. However, it wasn’t entirely clear watching this film if the absence of these things actually improve peoples lives. I mean, part of that is probably due to the film being neo noir; the city seems quite grimey. The only real taste that you get of peoples lives being improved is in the shots where Lemmy is in the hotel he is staying at, which is serviced by (I want to say) androids but then it calls into question if peoples lives are really improved, or if it is just men as it comes off quite objectifying to women. Really reminds me of scenes of Soylent Green.

Anyway… back to the premise! People who show any signs of emotion are considered to be acting illogically and are executed through drowning. It seems like this is a sort of sport in this city, as it is observed by a bunch of well-to-do men from a balcony… none of whom seem to flinch at the sight of this.. On his journey, Lemmy meets Natacha von Braun (a programmer of the Alpha 60) who helps him to overthrow the machine. In the process he falls in love with her and apparently the love that he has for her “introduces emotion and unpredictability into the city”. There’s a scene (I watched this some time ago so I might be thinking of the wrong woman, but I think this is the one I am thinking of) where Lemmy is being accosted and von Braun sees this and she sheds a single tear and someone asks her if she is crying and she’s like NO I’M NOT BECAUSE I’M NOT ALLOWED TO BE… At the time I was thinking she has a lot of feels for him, and she’s not hiding this very well.. Anyways more on that later. So they manage to destroy the machine by telling it a riddle it cannot understand and Lemmy sweeps von Braun off her feet and drives her out of the city. The last scene is of them driving into the sunset.

So, I found this film very strange. I know it has a cult following, and is regarded very highly and I think that has something to do with it being before its time with this concept. It was probably one of the first films that looked at dystopic/utopic cities. Most of the better-put-together films of that genre, in my mind, come a bit later from the 70s onards; so this film probably had a great legacy. However, there were in my mind a lot of moments which felt dated or too over-the-top, but I guess it first came out nearly 60 years ago so I can’t be too hard on it…

Firstly, the scene I mentioned above where von Braun is hiding her true emotion was so transparent, and was done in front of the enforcers of this city so it didn’t seem realistic that she would not be found out… Like if people are living in fear of being emotional or letting on that they are reading poetry or any literature, the way that they would be acting would be very subtle, or they would be displaying real fear at the idea of being caught (or perhaps even excitement… none of which can be seen in this film). Quite probably this film is influenced by George Orwell’s 1984 (published in 1949) and the way the protagonist acted in that book when he thought that he was being watched was very different to how he acted when he wasn’t, because his life was at stake if he didn’t. I didn’t feel that from these characters in Alphaville, despite the very real and very violent threat of execution.

There are several shots throughout the film which flash up E=mc2 and other equations. Supposedly they are shown to display the scientism that underpins Alphaville, but it seems like a strange way of illustrating that.

Overall, I thought the way Lemmy interacted with women was very dated, and I think this is something that a lot of science fiction films of that sort of era (pre-1980s) struggle with. That even though the film is set in a futuristic time, the writer/author is stuck in a mindset that is very old-fashioned and you can see that in the work. It therefore came off as quite dated.

So all in all, I really struggled to take this film seriously, or suspend my disbelief that this was a real thing that was happening. I have seen quite a few films of this topic before I came round to this one. Perhaps if I had seen this earlier, I might have a different perspective. I can certainly see how influential a film it has been. Enjoyed the neo-noir shots. Personally disliked the characters but I put that down to the dated interactions between the protagonist and the women in the film. Overall enjoyed watching a slice of history, but not one of my faves of the genre.

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Space Sweepers [2021]

“Who cares if a million lives are lost?”


Oh man, this film is incredible. Where do I even begin? So Space Sweepers is a South Korean space western film. It was released in 2021 and directed by Jo Sung-Hee. Apparently it’s regarded as the first Korean space blockbuster, which is amazing, and it’s available to watch on Netflix if you haven’t seen it. Obviously the next bit of this post is very spoilery (as per usual) so you know… continue at your own peril.

So the premise of the film is that it’s the year 2092 and the earth has become pretty much uninhabitable evidenced by people having to wear breathing apparatus when they’re moving around earth. UTS Corporation, run by their CEO/overlord James Sullivan, has built a new home for humanity which orbits earth and sort of mimics the ecosystem but as with most utopic cities, it is only available to the few elite people allowed to ascend. Meanwhile, the rest of Earth are left to suffocate and struggle. The film follows the shenanigans of a group of society known as Space Sweepers… which are kind of like road sweepers but in space. They’re tasked with collecting the space debris that floats in the earth’s orbit and they can then sell it to the company factory so big items are a big deal. The main characters work on the ship ‘The Victory. There’s Kim Tae-ho, Tiger Park, an android and Captain Jang. The backstories of each of these characters is really rich and very different. Tae-ho was a soldier who finds a baby and adopts it (a girl called Su-ni). He turns his back on being a soldier and then is made a non-citizen leaving him and his daughter homeless. This is so reminiscent of the way that a lot of countries treat their soldiers, that once they become useless to the state, they turn their back on them; so this specific backstory emphasises this reality. Anyway, he becomes neglectful and is therefore not paying attention when Su-ni is caught up in a collision between space debris and their sector. Su-ni is violently ejected into space and the government refuse to help find her body because he is considered a non-citizen. Tiger Park used to be a drug baron but has a heart of gold. Bubs was once a soldier bot. Jang was a child genius, but discovers how UTS works and decides to attempt to assassinate Sullivan, nearly dying in the process.

The crew pick up what they think is normal space debris, only to discover a child inside who the authorities are searching for. It is claimed that she contains a weapon of mass destruction created by the terrorist group Black Fox. They find a phone in her bag which they trace to a person willing to pay them two million dollars in exchange for the child. They arrange to meet the person at a nightclub but in the chaos, they lose the child Dorothy (Korean name Kot-nim) and UTS soldiers swarm the area, massacring people at the club (blaming it on the Black Fox group). It becomes obvious that Kot-nim is not just a normal kid and that she has some sort of power to manipulate nanobots and grow plants. The crew disagree about what to do as they attempt to make another exchange attempt. They are ambushed by masked people who reveal themselves to be fellow Space Sweepers working as part of the collective Black Fox which they explain is an environmental group; not a terrorist group. The group explain that the child was born of a disease and in an attempt to save her life, her father injects her with nanobots which gives her this special ability. It is revealed that UTS have been using this child to terraform Mars. that Sullivan plans to kill Dorothy and that this will be cataclysmic for Earth. They decide to work together to save humanity and reunite Kot-nim with her father and are momentarily successful but are then met with UTS soldiers who murder everyone save for the Victory crew and Kot-nim is kidnapped. Initially Tae-ho takes Sullivan’s finders fee but then realises he’s better than that and decides they must save the girl. The crew get to the bomb that Kot-nim is strapped to and free her but realise it cannot be diffused, that the only way to save her and the planet would be to separate the child from the bomb by 5,000 kilometres. Jang calls on all Space Sweepers to help on the emergency frequency. The Sweepers come to their aid and fight the troops. Sullivan intercepts them but they still manage to get away in time, revealing that they did a switcheroo.. That they gave the child to a friend and that instead they had the bomb. There’s a moment where you hear the inner dialogue of Sullivan as he says “Why? I did everything right” before he is destroyed. Kot-nim manages to protect them in the blast using her super cool powers, and the last scenes are of The Victory in the aftermath, Kot-nim happily living amongst the crew and the crew continuing to chase space debris.

So, there’s a lot going on this film and I really don’t even know what to say about it other than I thought it was just an incredible film.

Okay, I do have a lot to say. I have so many feelings.

I don’t want to be reductive but there is something so reminiscent in this film about Star Wars, specifically the ramshackle crew of Han Solo and co, the adventure of the Millennium Falcon. There’s moments in Star Wars where Han Solo is speaking in English, and Chewy in his language and they just get each other, and they move in and out of these dark corners of the universe with exotic creatures and it’s just incredibly mundane and ordinary seeming to watch it, even though it’s obviously like nothing you have ever seen before. I get that same feel when I watched this film. They’re kind of thrown together and everyone’s very different. At times they speak different languages but the Space Sweepers are just trying to survive. They have those jobs that seem really exciting but in this world, they’re considered the lowest rung of society. There’s this moment at the end of the film where the Victory spaceship whooses off after space debris and it brought me back to the whoosh of the millennium falcon. That same feeling of adventure and excitement that was so special it actually made me cry.

The cast are incredibly diverse. The version I watched was the original South Korean audio, with English subtitles, but throughout the film you hear a variety of different languages and accents. Russian. English. Middle Eastern. Spanish. German. And they all understand each other, which I thought was really cool. And then when you see the Black Fox group, that’s also represented by different skin tones and different accents, sometimes broken English/Korean. It’s not some homogenised version of the future like the colony is promising. It’s diversity and difference, coming together for a common cause, and I find that really quite beautiful.

I enjoyed very much the fact that the peripheral characters are so well fleshed out. I find often with blockbuster films that the main characters and their stories/dialogues will be fleshed out, but then all of the peripheral characters are very two-dimensional. A good example of that is in the Alien Prometheus film, and the end result of that is you don’t care about anyone except the main people… but what this fails to realise is that if you invest in more of your character building, that enriches the whole film. Some people see it as a sunken cost and merely a waste of time… but it creates such a rich film, it makes you get behind the story, it makes you invested in the story.. There are so many cool examples of this. For instance, the leader of the Black Fox group is also an accountant(?) for the UTS Corporation. You start off thinking he is a terrible pencil-pusher but he’s basically been working undercover this whole time. Then there’s the android Bubs, who the child instantly recognises is not a boy bot but a girl, and Bubs blushes and confides in her that she has been saving money from their jobs to upgrade and change her physique to one that represents her femininity. It makes her triumph in getting rich so much more endearing. Like at one point before that backstory was fleshed out, I was like why would an android want to be rich, but then you realise it’s for a very ernest reason which approaches the concept of transness in a way that I think both illustrates the feeling of otherness and also tells a story which endearing, and doesn’t use Bubs as just another joke at trans peoples expense.

All of the main crew also have different motivations for why they agree to sacrifice themselves for the child. Captain Jang wants to thwart the corporation and specifically Sullivan. Bubs has that sweet connection with the child where Kot-nim is probably the first and only person to see her as she truly is. I guess similarly Tiger Park is not seen as an object of fear by Kot-nim, where society does view him that way (which UTS plays off of with the propaganda they share with Earth as they scapegoat The Victory). Lastly Tae-ho sees his own daughter in this child, and decides to ‘step-up-to-the-plate’ in a way that he probably feels he was unable to with his own daughter in her final moments. So yeah, they all have different motivations but they ultimately add up to the same moral alignment. And I find it funny that despite the fact that these characters quarrel and fight amongst themselves and squabble after space trash, they still look out for one another. They sacrifice themselves without thinking, knowing that it is a suicide mission and have this deep integrity whereas society would suggest because of the line of work that they are in and their class status, they have no integrity. That they are simply vagrants and losers. If it wasn’t for the story having been leaked on the emergency frequency, you can guarantee that UTS would have spun that story that the explosion out on the edge of the universe was caused by someone else. Maybe even the Sweepers themselves! And then no one would have known about Sullivan’s evil plans. Which makes me wonder if the collision that killed Su-ni was even caused by space debris in the first place. What if there was some other reason and it was blamed on the Space Sweepers not doing their job correctly?

The one question I don’t think was answered properly, and forgive me if I missed this but what the absolute fuck was going on with Sullivan and the bulging veins?! He gave me vibes of white man saviour, like in the game Bioshock Infinite… you know where the guy becomes a prophet and claims to be the answer to humanity’s problems and builds this ‘utopic’ floating city but it turns out he is an absolute dick… Yeah you know the one..

Anyways, there’s so much in this film. It was really a joy to watch. Overall, this film is so exciting and complicated and heartwarming. On the face of it, if you look no further than the surface, it’s an adventurous romp across the universe, but not that far undearth.. a mere scratch below and it highlights af myriad of the current problems that exist in our society now such as class systems, inequality, how profit is reverred above all else, the fact that we are killing our own planet, our uncertain future, the ways in which we treat our most vulnerable… all in a fun and colourful South Korean package. It made me laugh. It made me cry. I adored watching this film and would absolutely watch it a million times over.

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