So, starting back after a little summer holiday hiatus with a little fun…. Psycho Goreman is 2020 film directed by Steven Kostanski. It’s somewhere between sci-fi, fantasy, horror and gore, as the title implies. The film has themes of monsters, creature feature, space and aliens. It has obviously been dated and has the feel of an 80s or 90s film to me.
Anyways so synopsis! The main stars, two siblings Mimi and Luke are playing a game only they know the rules to when they come across an unusual gem in a hole in their garden. Shortly after, a monstrous figure emerges from the same hole and creates a path of destruction and death. It identifies himself as “Arch Duke of Nightmares” and reveals its plan to destroy and imprison everything and everyone in its path. Looking for the gem, it meets Mimi and Luke, and Mimi discovers that the gem actually controls the monster who she names Psycho Goreman (or PG for short). She then wields this power for her own amusement. An intergalactic panel arrange to send a warrior down to earth to kill PG. Meanwhile we learn that PG’s aggression is an act of vengeance after his enslavement by the same group of beings now being sent to kill him. There’s some sub-plot stuff going on in the film where the parents of Mimi and Luke are clearly in dire need of a divorce (they’re truly awful people), Luke’s best friend gets turned into a brain, PG wreaks havoc on a policeman turning him into a zombified thing and manipulates Luke into revolting against Mimi in a bid to recover the stone. It all comes to a head with a final battle where Mimi fights Luke, Mum fights Dad, PG fights the warrior. With no end in sight, Mimi proposes a final battle using the game Mimi and Luke created together. It’s hard to describe what this game actually entailed due its complex rules and even harder for the characters to understand themselves but in any case, Mimi’s team wins, the gem is given back to PG and he promises to spare the family. The final scenes are of PG’s rampage across the universe.
So, what do I think? The film as a whole is awful but in a really fun way. The acting was over the top and it felt like, as with a lot of gore films, many scenes were super gorey for the sake of gore like this crazy scene where we see the warehouse which is PG’s first stop in the film and it’s the most incredible scene you’ve ever witnessed. Body parts all over the walls, and a random guy’s eyes are just rolling back into his head into infinitum all because he said “I don’t want to die” so PG says “don’t worry I’ll make you live forever” and he is true to his word, leaving this poor homeless man in absolute hellish never ending agony. Brilliant. It’s so horrible that it ends up being really funny, sorta like when Joker does these truly heinous things to people in Batman films and there’s something so disgusting and amusing about it all.
The young Mimi character in this is so sassy. She’s the perfect actress for this film and she’s kind of awful as well. I liked that she was so annoying that she didn’t read like a child acting as a child, she just felt genuinely like an aggravating brat. She used any opportunity to tell her dysfunctional parents to fuck of; there was really no telling her what to do, especially because they were the worst parents of all time. In a sense they were too caught up on their own stuff to really understand that their kids were in terrible danger until the last minute. They even met PG and their first instinct wasn’t to get the hell out of there. I like that the dad was very obviously going through huge trauma, i.e. there is something very wrong with this guy. He’s seen something that traumatised him. On the face of it, he seemed like a really lazy man taking advantage of a hyper functional wife but there were moments when he would look into the distance and you could see the whites of his eyes and you knew he was a broken man.
One of the funniest moments is just a small bit where Mimi asks if PG wants a magazine of hot hunky boys and PG says “I DO NOT LIKE HOT HUNKY BOYS” and then he quickly changes his mind with “MAYBE I DO LIKE HOT HUNKY BOYS”. It was such an unnecessary moment to the plot but very amusing. There are many moments like this in the film that are unnecessary but wildly entertaining. Another moment like that is about Luke‘s best friend, who was turned into a brain which I mentioned earlier. It’s really not talked about in the film. Even when the film concludes and Mimi returns the stone to PG, there is no resolution for the kid who got turned into a brain. There is the scene at the end where you see him going to eat dinner with his parents are totally silent. Presumably enough time has passed and they have come to terms with this but it’s just such a weird scene. His hands are flopping around while he tries to use the fork and knife to eat. Can you imagine him becoming an adult brain? Can he have a family? What will he go on to work as? Does he have the average intelligence of a child or does the size of his brain-bod increase his intelligence? It’s really bizarre and I have questions. And the terrible fact is that it’s Mimi’s fault that he becomes like this, which really brings into question who is the real monster here: Is it PG or is it Mimi?
I mean.. Imagine being in the room when someone pitched the idea for this film.
Film guy: Hey so there's a gem yeah, and a child finds it and it controls the ultimate villain of the universe.
Some guy with money: Ok…
Film guy: So the kid wields it over him
Some guy with money: Right…
Film guy: But he manages to destroy a bunch of people, turn a child into a brain and fuse a gun to the hand of cop and zombify him
Some guy with money: And?
Film guy: And there’s a warrior that looks like a mechanical angel you would expect to see in Doctor Who and some aliens who get killed with space knives
Some guy with money: Hmm
Film guy: And the villain promises not to kill her but then he kills literally everyone else
Some guy with money: …
Film guy: And somehow I want to throw in a confusing kid’s game into the mix that no one knows how to play
Some guy with money: …
Film guy: Are we making this or what?! **motions to do a high five but gets denied**
That is how I imagine it went, yet somehow this film was made.
So all in all, entertaining and fun film to watch. Probably not going to win any awards and I question how and why it was made, but it was a fun couple of hours nonetheless.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“What are we gonna do, ask him to walk out of the airlock?”
Oh man, I meant to do a post about this one film a long time ago when I watched it back in June 2021.. Stowaway is a science fiction thriller which came out in 2021. You can see it on Netflix now, if you want to. I really meant to do a post about it straight away when I saw it because it had a big impact on me, but life took over, and I kept saying I would write something but never did. So, anyway, I’m doing that now; here I am writing a post about this!
So, just to give a little synopsis about the film, here goes!
The film stars some pretty big names in Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Toni Collette and Shamier Anderson. It’s directed by Joe Penna and written by both Joe and Ryan Morrison.
The story is about a crew of three people who are on a two-year mission to Mars, headed/piloted by Toni Collette’s character, a biologist in Daniel Dae Kim and Anna’s character as the medical researcher, Zoe. They take off from Earth and quickly find themselves in trouble when Michael, a stowaway, is found unconscious in a module somewhere in the ship sort of entangled in something that takes carbon dioxide from the air. As he falls from this module, he ends up destroying it which basically renders the ship unable to scrub carbon dioxide from it, so the longer that this extra person exists on the ship, the higher likelihood there is that they will suffocate. They move quickly to trying to think of various ways in order to scrub the CO2 from the air such as using lithium hydroxide canisters but the load is too much for them to handle. David then sacrifices part of his algae experiment which is literally the whole reason for the mission. Half of the algae die in the process and only provides enough CO2 scrubbing for a third person. Mission control suggests they try a dangerous mission to recover liquid oxygen from the spent upper stage rocket, which is not the ideal situation because it is so darn risky. So they spend time considering their options including whether to sacrifice Michael. Eventually they run out of time… all the algae has died which means they don’t have an option here. Presented with this, both Zoe and Daniel volunteer to try to retrieve the liquid oxygen. The mission is a total failure – predictably – and they barely make it back alive. Zoe ends up sacrificing herself, goes back to retrieve the canister, exposing herself to a lethal amount of radiation and the last scene is her looking at the stars and succumbing to death.
So, what did I think this film?
I think it’s an interesting take on a conundrum, which I’m sure we’ve all seen, where there’s a wild trolley hurtling towards a split track and you are given a scenario of either killing one person who you don’t know or many who you do. What do you do? If Star Trek and Spock have taught me anything, it is that the needs of the many far outweigh the needs of the few and this is the core argument throughout much of the film.
I find it very fitting that Anna Kendrick’s character being a medical professional and therefore altruistic role ends up both pleading for a caring outcome (rather than killing Michael) and ends up herself volunteering to what is ultimately her own demise. I guess all the characters in this live up to the roles that they play and in the ways in which they ultimately approach this challenge. Toni’s character leads them to this difficult solution… Daniel’s character being the scientist tries to come to a scientific solution.. Anna’s character, as mentioned, takes on the caregiver role. And Shamier’s character Michael is the innocent in this situation; being the least experienced of the team. I found it interesting as well that one of the reasons for Anna’s character to sacrifice herself is that she did not have a family and I think that plays into an archaic gender role. Toni and Daniel’s characters can’t sacrifice themselves because they are core to the mission. One of the suggestions is that as Anna’s character does not have a family, that this makes her the preferred candidate. Does that devalue her as a person? It seems like that is implied. I guess it would be almost too easy for Michael, the person who stowed away, to sacrifice himself. It would be quite a boring ending.
I also found it interesting that basically all of the algae had died because of this situation, so their whole reason for going to Mars at all (for, I assume, terraforming Mars) is destroyed.. It makes me wonder what happened afterwards when they got to Mars. I mean, it’s sort of implied that they would have gotten to Mars in the end because the end of the film is Anna Kendrick looking out at the stars and you can faintly see Mars in the distance. It feels hopeful despite this great tragedy. But then when they get there, what are they even gonna do? Are they just gonna turn around and go back? I always find this question of terraforming other planets quite ridiculous anyway… It’s an age old theme but I find it so silly because we have a perfectly habitable planet that we live on right now but we just treat it like shit. If we just looked after the planet that we lived on, perhaps we wouldn’t need to have conversations about terraforming anything because the planet that we live on literally has everything that we need in abundance.
I really like that they never truly address why Michael has stowed in the ship because it almost seems irrelevant. It’s a mystery but knowing ‘why’ would not actually help them in their situation. I mean, I assume Michael was desperate to be part of this mission and that’s why this happened but equally he could have been fixing something and got stuck there in the module. Often in films where there is a stowaway, usually they’re young, maybe they’re trying to run away from something, or it’s something or someone evil putting the crew in danger intentionally. And so I think this was a really nice twist because this character Michael was actually very innocent. You can tell he is very troubled by his presence causing such a consequence, and that he did not wish to hurt anyone.
So all in all, simple concept and interesting moral conundrum. Well acted. At times stunning CGI. But quite a predictable film I would say. Still worth the watch.
“Let us be thankful we have an occupation to fill. Work hard; increase production, prevent accidents, and be happy.”
So, THX 1138 is the directional feature film debut of one GEORGE LUCAS and was The Watchers film in January! It’s pretty strange to see it – for me, the first time – because it’s so basic in comparison to the world we later know him to have created in Star Wars but you can see seeds of Star Wars in THX 1138. There’s a totalitarianism vibe that is hard to dissociate from the Order. But anyway, I’ll talk about the plot of the film first and then I’ll go on to how I kind of felt about it.
So in this dystopian future, sexual intercourse and reproduction are prohibited. People are forced to have these mind-altering drugs in order to function every day and when we watch the film, we’re seeing it from the perspective of the top down. So we’re watching over the people who run this dystopian future system. We don’t really see ‘the masses’ except mostly through CCTV. THX 1138 is actually the name of the protagonist in the film. His flatmate is a woman and she’s sort of meant to be his ‘mate’, paired with him by the state (I doubt he had a say in this) but there’s a distance between them. Everything about their home and their way of living is very sanctioned and perfectly white from the clothes that they wear to the house they live in. Emotions and sex and family are all very taboo and everyone lives in uniformity.The system uses mindless police androids to control the masses. THX 1138 and his co-workers function to create these androids to police over people, and if anyone gets out of line, they are penalised in some sort of way or they might be killed. THX 1138 seems to be a very diligent worker and devout to the order of things but lately has been going through feelings of anxiety so goes to confession where a monk-like figure tells him the doctrine which is to be a good worker and be productive and it will ALL BE OK which is very capitalist, isn’t it? He’s told he’s a true believer, and the monk blesses him telling him ”work hard, increase production, prevent accidents, and be happy”. But spoiler. No one’s happy. There’s this mindlessness that seems to have taken hold, probably due to the drugs everyone is being given. Like even masturbating is a very sanctioned boring form of masturbation and we see the protagonist masturbating with a robotic arm so he’s not even allowed to touch himself in this future There’s a moment in there where he is watching porn and there’s a naked Black woman which gave off Blaxploitation vibes to me. I don’t know why it was necessary for the figure of his desire to be a Black woman, but this is a common trope in film that paints Black women as hyper sexualised, which I found very uncomfortable. Anyways… So it turns out that THX’s roommate has been slowly cutting out and hiding his daily pills and soon we realise that his anxiety is a symptom of him coming off of the drugs, because he’s becoming suddenly more self-aware and it’s like he is coming out of a fog and starts to feel again and remember normal human emotions like the aforementioned anxiety and also sexual desire. She confesses what she had done to him to free him, and they end up having sex. He tries to go to work after that and he’s not able to function in the way he needs to for the hazardous monotonous job he does in the factory. He ends up making a mistake and, what looks like, a nuclear rod burns its way through the building and the powers that be realise he has been illegally not taking his drugs. He gets sent to prison where we see the woman very briefly and then she is never seen again. The prison seems to have no exit but someone called SEN and a hologram unit called SRT (who was actually my favourite character in this film) team up and manage to escape. They become separated and both SEN and SRT are apprehended or die in the process, but THX makes it to the surface and the last scene is him making it out of the chamber and looking at the setting sun.
So firstly, I think the ending is a really beautiful moment because you don’t know why they’ve been living this way. There’s very little dialogue to actually tell you why they live in this weird underground dystopian future. Usually with films like this there’s a specific reason and it’s spelled out very clearly. I mean, maybe I missed it, but it’s usually something like people have to live underground because there’s nuclear waste, or the humans have destroyed the earth or the powers that be wanted to create a cleaner, less disease ridden society which necessitates living this sort of way. Or, I don’t know, humans have become so diabolical that people were stepped in and created these systems that will take away these horrible natural urges that humans have to be terrible which the monkdom in this and the sanctioning normal sexual urges in this sort of suggests might be the case but we don’t really know… So when he climbs out, it feels like he is really going into the unknown. Like he probably doesn’t know if the atmosphere is now about to sustain life but it’s either escape to freedom (which may involve dying but at least it would be his choice) or surrender only to die. I really like that ending. It ended up being so hopeful. I always have a lot of questions though with endings like this, like how is he gonna survive out there? My brain is the type that I play out reality after the last scene and that protagonist lives on. I’d like to think he survived and found others just like him.
Oh, one thing to note is that there is a shorter version of this film, because George made the original short as a uni student and it’s well loved also. So if you like this longer version, then go see the shorter one or vice versa because yeah, they’re both enjoyable and endearing in their own ways. Some people really love the short version more than the longer version. I had no opinion whether one was better than the other. I liked them both for different reasons.
I enjoyed the bit in the film where you see the cost of the android police pursuing THX and it keeps going up and up and up until the expense of the capture exceeds their allocated budget and they’re told to just leave THX alone. Ah capitalism.
Supposedly the feature was a commercial flop which made back $945,000 in rentals for Warner Bros, but left the studio in the red… For a first feature film to flop like that, it could have been the end of George’s career and he might never have made Star Wars so I’m glad that he was able to continue in the industry despite that. Looking at some of the commentary, Robert Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times said that “this film suffers somewhat from its simple storyline but as a work of visual imagination is special and as haunting as parts of 2001 Space Odyssey, Silent Running and the Andromeda String”. And then Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune said “the principal problem with this film is that it lacks imagination… the essential component of a science fiction film. Some persons might claim the world of THX 1138 is here right now. A more reasonable opinion would hold that we are facing the problems of that world right now. Time has passed the film by”. I would disagree with the latter. I think that it’s a mistake to think that science fiction aims to create fantastical new problems that we might have in future. It’s always a mirror of the time we live in right now. Look at films like Soylent Green from the same era, which looked at inequality, food scarcity, sexism… all problems they were facing in the 70s but the film mirrored that in a guise of the future. THX 1138 is no different. Certainly the themes it is based on may not be novel… Police brutality. Man versus machine. Capitalism. Furthering unscrupulous aims. Inequality. They’re problems that existed when the film was made in the 70s just like they exist now. Just because you’re saying something similar to other voices it doesn’t strip it of its worth.
I thought that I might hate this film actually, because I tend to dislike a lot of 70s films particularly because they tend to portray women in a certain light, as commodities or pieces of flesh only. So, I was surprised that the protagonist woman in this film somehow managed to undo her training on her own and then also plan to undo that for THX 1138 in order to save him. It makes her a mastermind! Usually, films in the 70s treat women like a damsel. It seems like a lot of films in that decade put women ‘in their places’ and I don’t really understand why totally. Maybe because those films made more money? Because films with strong women was an out there concept for the 70s? I don’t really know. It always surprises me but of course I’m seeing the film with a modern lens and it doesn’t work… Anyway, I was really surprised that this woman ended up being a bit of a saviour. That made the film quite special to me. That said, she did end up just being a vehicle for the dude to escape and then we never see her again.. and there’s also that cringey Blaxploitation bit… All I can say is the film is very much ‘of its time’..
So overall, it’s a simple concept but enjoyable. I can see why it has a cult following now. It has good bones and felt like a little star wars seed with the whole totalitarianism thing. Nice to see how far George has come.
“You act like it’s crazy, like I’m the first person in history that actually wants to live forever. With people that like him. You know, there is not much difference between being stuck in a loop and being stuck repeating the same shitty day over and over like back home until I die.”
Oh man. I’ve been meaning to write posts for so long. 2021 was a bad year for mental health (for lots of people but specifically me) and I have only had sporadic desire to write but I have the spoons for it today so I wanted to quickly post a couple of recent SOPHFIFEST The Watcher films from Jan and Feb (this week) while I have the drive to!
So, here goes! ‘The Endless’ is a 2017, science fiction/horror movie which stars and is directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Morehead. This isn’t the first film that they’ve co-written, co-directed and starred in. It’s actually meant to be a kind of sequel to their 2012 film ‘Resolution’, which I’ve not yet seen but I am going to watch thoooon. (Resolution shares the same universe and some of the same characters supposedly.)
So THIS film begins with brothers, Justin and Aaron Smith when they receive a video cassette from Camp Arcadia, a group they went to when they were kids after their mum died. They both have very different ideas about what happened when they were there. Aaron thinks that it was simple, commune kind of living, and Justin (who seems to be the older broski) thinks that it was a cult so they have very different feelings about that period of their life. There’s talk in the tape about ascension and Justin is worried that it relates to some sort of mass suicide but manages to still be talked into returning when Aaron expresses that he hates his boring day-to-day life. I think that Aaron particularly feels resentful that he lives this life when he could be back at Camp. So they go to Camp Arcadia. Everyone is quite friendly with them and it feels like no one has really aged. Aaron receives a lot of attention which he welcomes but Justin is super skeptical. There seems to be one member – Hal – who appears leader-like but at some point he says that there are no leaders in this camp. He’s also a physics buff and has a complicated equation drawn in chalk on a wall, to what he cannot say. Aaron grows very fond of the camp and he ends up convincing Justin to stay an additional day. And then lots of weird things start happening at the camp, which no one seems to be that phased by. There’s a moment when they play this weird tug of war game with a rope that just sort of floats in the sky and they just believe that someone is on on a ladder, holding the rope out of sight. We see birds flying in circles. There’s the weird dude who keeps running past them without saying a word. The sobbing woman. Justin thinks someone is watching him. He gets left a picture of a buoy, which he later finds in the lake so he dives down to see what it leads to and nearly drowns in the process (it’s a box with another tape). Oh and there’s the other matter of there being MULTIPLE FRICKING MOONS! And the general ominous words from Hal suggesting Justin come to a conclusion before the third moon. Justin is, rightly so, freaked out by all of this and wants to leave but then he and his brother have a fight and it turns out Justin told him a bunch of lies when they were kids, suggesting that the people at camp were all castrated and alien loving death cultists. This makes Aaron and Hal super mad. Hal asks Justin to leave, but he can’t because his car is borked. Typical. Justin tries to get help and bumps into the guy who keeps running past him, and the guy tells him that they’re all trapped there in time loops, that he tried to kill himself many times and that an entity is trapping them there (it seems to get some sort of sick pleasure out of the violent nature of their repeated deaths, evident when he’s like “it won’t let me sleep, it won’t let me dream”). He warns him if he doesn’t get out by the time the 3rd moon rises, Justin and his brother will also be trapped and gives him a compass to help him find his way. He ends up finding Aaron but not before seeing more weirdness and they go back to camp and find a previously locked door open (the spoooooooky door) inside which is a tonne of different tapes dated from years and years ago and when they enter, a TV starts playing and it’s showing them Justin and Aaron in different scenarios from the entity’s perspective. Freaked out, they try to find the camp peeps and realise that the whole camp have been obliterated and then the entity starts to engulf the camp and they have to run. In the mad dash, they fight over Justin wanting to do things his way and eventually he relents and they manage to get away. The last scene suggests they might be looping to the beginning but then you realise they might have actually made it out.
Sooooo, I really enjoyed this film. The concept is so interesting and something I’ve not seen before. They put a few different sci fi/horror concepts together for maximum creep factor. The weird cultish camp. The Stepford Wives type grinning fella. The magnetic cult leader. It gave off this real Deliverance vibe which set the hairs on my neck on end pretty early on, despite a lot of the film being shot in a lot of light. It would be easy to make something creepy in a cultish cabin in the woods at nighttime; that would just play on our natural fear of nighttime danger… but this film managed to maintain and build tension without any of that for the most part. Not helped by the brothers’ tendency to make a lot of silly (what seem like) dangerous choices throughout the film, and you’re just like why are you doing that, that’s really not smart dude?! I believe, also, the way the two brothers were written lends creedance to that because they play two different dynamics. They play the child and the adult. The innocent and the skeptical. So throughout you hear perspectives of the camp and its people through these two different lenses and not really knowing where you stand and whose opinion to trust makes it so uneasy. So when you do start seeing a bunch of weird things happening you think maybe you can’t trust your judgement, because both Aaron and Justin are unreliable narrators of this story.
I also really enjoyed that it felt very much that the sci fi and horror elements seemed to come secondary to this story of brotherhood. At the beginning Aaron is complaining about being stuck in Justin’s way of doing things which has them in their own little loop. It takes them getting stuck at the camp to firstly realise that they WERE stuck but also maybe doing things Justin’s way… the cynical, one foot in front of the other, not trusting anyone or anything, only having each other… it really hasn’t served them all that well. By letting go at the the end of the film, Aaron feels like he has closure from this camp and maybe Justin does have capacity to change. It’s a very loving ending. It’s like Justin accepts Aaron in that moment, and then they pass what is apprently the grave of the mother at the end, so it feels like a little nod to her that they’re okay; they found their way eventually.
Another part of me feels like maybe they didn’t get out at the end. In fact, maybe they’ve been actually stuck in a loop this whole time. We assume that they left the camp when they were kids and that they couldn’t possibly be stuck by the same entity because the people in the camp are ageless even though maybe 20 years have passed… But maybe no one ages in those specific time loops because most of the people who re-spawn do so after they try to kill themselves. We see the camp eviscerated and assume the entity did that but maybe they WERE a suicide cult and that’s what keeps bringing them back to the start. Maybe because Aaron and Justin endured their own loop, and were unaware they were stuck in one, they never tried to kill themselves so they aged. I don’t know. That has been playing on my mind since I watched it and I love that. There’s also the moment at the end when they drive away and you think they’re not gonna make it because there’s loads of birds trying to get through the forcefield and bouncing off and it seems like they make it out but my brain goes to: OR IS IT?! My brain has been saying WHAT IF since I watched this film. I mean, it must be called The Endless for a reason. Maybe it really is Endless.
I have a lot of questions in my mind about when this all began. Who was the first person to get stuck? The tapes behind the locked spooky door suggest this goes deeper than the handful of characters we see. And I also wonder what the entity gets out of this. Where does it come from? How long has it existed? What does it really look like? What is the purpose of all of these different time loops? Does it feed off of them somehow? Or is it just for its own entertainment? Is it like a weird, adult version of Monsters Inc where this entity scares these people to death over and over in their little time pods, and that generates enough energy for this alien’s home world? Maybe Aaron and Justin ARE on its homeworld, trapped. Or maybe they’re actually in limbo. One theory that crossed my mind was that they actually had something to do with their mother’s death… that they inadvertantly caused her to crash with their bickering when they were kids and while she went to heaven, they went to this hell dimension where they were forced to live out their own personal sense of hell until they could come to terms with something they had to learn… which might work because the cult, and the weird angry dude may have killed themselves… And there’s a couple moments when Hal is trying to work out some answer. One way is through an equation (which supposedly is about light?? I don’t really know) and another is in a moment where he says something like ‘maybe the lesson here is forgiveness’ about Justin, after which he immediately acts in ways that are very unfogiving. Maybe they’re all stuck in hell too with something to learn before they can ‘ascend’ to heaven, and the entity is actually a monstrous Lucifer. And I’ve also seen some theories that this is all a machination of the character Mike, that he is just insane and this is all in his mind (but that would be WAY too easy).
There’s a potential further theory tied into the idea of the land being Arcadia, which is a Greek mythological bountiful, utopic garden, inhabited by shepherds and unspoiled by savagery (said savagery possibly depicted by Aaron and Justin), but I haven’t explored that concept enough to have an opinion on this. I will consider this some more!
I also enjoyed the grainy nature of the film. I don’t remember what it was like right at the beginning when they were in ‘real life’, if it was particularly colourful but the sepia type change was so subtle that it took me a long time to realise anything had changed. And at first I just thought wow dusty terrain. And then I realised that was an intentional choice to make the camp and everything stuck in these loops look like something of the past. Like an old photo. There’s even a moment where we see a man in a tent who is re-spawning over and over again and he warns Aaron(?) to get away as far as he can, and it seems like the graphics inside the tent look black and white almost which seems to depict the man’s comparative age, as in he’s been there a longggggg long time. Supposedly, he’s credited as something like 1900s man, so that makes a lot of sense. It really reminded me of BioShock Infinite actually… there are these moments in that game when you can see supplied in other dimensions as black and white blobs and the tent inside has the same sort of vibe to it. Perhaps the look of the film could have been more polished, but the film didn’t have a very big budget and I think what they managed to achieve with the budget they had is WAYYYYYY BETTTERRRR than a lot of big hollywood films.
So all in all, really enjoyable film, great idea. Love that they tied it to their previous film. It makes the world feel large and full of a lot of possibility for sequels that left me wanting to understand more. I have so many questions but I think that’s what makes this film so compelling. A+ would watch again.
Sci Fi London 2021 is over! Just catching up now on posting about the last two feature films I saw. I had such a great time and I thank all of the writers, directors, actors, as well as Louis, Marta and the Sci Fi London crew for putting on such a great festival. The standard of films was so great and it was lovely to be able to see everyone in person.
Sci Fi London will return next year to its usual time of year (late spring/early summer). Look out there for more.
Directed by Matsumi Kameyama, 12 months of Kai is the story of the relationship between a human and an android. Kyoka, played by Ayaka Kawaguchi, lives in Tokyo and meets with her friends for coffee. It’s clear from the start that there is pressure on them all to be with someone, as they talk about potential boyfriends and husbands, even stopping to make eyes at the coffee shop dude which was a pretty humorous moment. Kyoka lives alone and it seems like her work is pretty much her life, so it’s not all that surprising when she decides to purchase/rent a ‘Personal Care Humanoid’ to take care of her needs. The humanoid, played by Kosei Kudo, arrives and is every bit as flawless and gorgeous as you can imagine. Kyoka begins setup and names the humanoid Kai. Meanwhile, she continues to date and her owning a PCH is met with horror from both her prospective partners and her friends who think Kyoka is wasting her time being with someone who cannot father her a child. Kyoka seems to genuinely care for Kai and Kai struggles with concepts of the future but otherwise seems pretty content. There are some uncomfortable moments when Kyoka’s mother comes to see her and later tells her she has cancer – which we find out later is a lie. Soon, we discover that Kai is pregnant …DUN DUN DUHHHHHHH and she informs her friends and family who are shocked and dismayed and encourage her to have an abortion. She decides to keep the baby and informs the corporation who created Kai which reveals to us that this has all been an experimental plot and that Kai is working exactly the way he was programmed to behave. Kyoka has the baby, which ends up looking Borg-esque. Kyoka is obviously super depressed and disgusted by herself and this baby, and tries to destroy it but is stopped by Kai. The corporation then moves in and drugs her and takes the baby from her. She awakes in this moodily lit room watched by a humanoid who asks her to set it up, to which she says “Begin setup” and the whole process starts all over again.
Oooooh, thinking about that ending gives me chills.
Enjoyed this one. Despite the low budget, the lighting in some scenes made the film glorious.
I could really feel the pressures on Kai in this one. It was like everyone from all angles was up in her bizness, telling her to find a REAL MAN but Kyoka seemed quite content with Kai. Her needs were pretty basic. She wasn’t looking for a kid. She was pretty content talking to Kai and could dismiss questions she didn’t want to talk about… which is pretty easy living if you think about it. How many relationships have you been in where there was something you didn’t want to talk about for whatever reason and your partner just let it go? It doesn’t really happen, at least not in my experience so I guess that’s why the relationship seemed so peaceful… haha.. but obviously nothing lasts forever. Kyoka found herself in unchartered territories where she didn’t know what to do. Her friends were split between being astonished and telling her to get rid of this baby. Her mother was complete trash. She lied about having cancer, or at least Kai said that she had. You could potentially read into that and suspect Kai is trying to pull Kyoka away from her support mechanisms and the loves in her life as it is Kai who tells her that her mother lied to her, but I couldn’t be sure. Whatever Kai’s intention, he lets it go and you never hear about it again. It probably contributes to Kyoka feeling like she really had no one to turn to by the end of the film, which contributes to her resigning herself to starting the whole process again. It really had me asking WHAT IS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND KYOKA?! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF AGAINNNNN?!?!?!
One cool thing I noticed about the film, was that Kai’s scenes were filmed with the actor keeping his eyelids open the whole time… which I would not have even clocked had I not heard this cool factoid about the film ‘Scott Pilgrim v the world’ the same weekend, in that the actors in their scenes were instructed to not blink while on camera, and that was to mirror the comic in which obviously none of the characters blink on the panels. The effect that had on the Scott Pilgrim film, and on this particular film is that there is a strange intensity about the character. It’s almost like that sensation the ‘uncanny valley’ where you see a human-like animation and it’s so close to real life but your brain is looking at the resemblance and trying to tear it apart.
Anyway, there’s not really much to say about this film so I’ll leave it there, but it was a strange but enjoyable concept. Well acted. The baby was particularly gruesome which shocked a lot of the people watching including myself, which I enjoyed! Really appreciate that the director came all the way from Japan to talk about the film as well and answer my question about the blinking(!) and it seemed like the writing of the concept was a very collaborative process which I love to hear.
“Once upon a time, there was a girl. She came upon an enchanted castle made of glass. Only people who remembered their names could enter there.”
Directed by Kelsey Egan, this South African film is set in a dystopian future where something called ‘The Shred’ has ravaged the world. It’s an airborne virus which literally shreds the memories and brain functions of people. One family seem to have thought of everything and live in a glass house surrounded by plant life. From the onset of the film, we learn that trespassers are shot on sight and used for fertiliser for their plants. As barbaric as that may seem, this family have very quaint, respectful traditions that surround these tributes whereby they recognise the life of these people before they become food for their tomatoes… In fact, their whole schtick is very ‘Little House on the prairie’ complete with oxygen mask bonnets. They live very simple lives led by the matriarch of the group where everyone plays an integral part to the upkeep of the house, taking turns to clean, plant and do ‘century duty’ which involves protecting the perimeter and Evie collects items which she hides to help preserve the memories of the past. One day, an attractive male stranger joins the group and the eldest daughter, ‘Bee’ takes him in – which is totally against the rules. This stranger is injured so they sew him up and when he wakes in chains, they explain that he will need to earn his keep. His inclusion into the family starts to dramatically mess with the normal flow of things in the house. Gabe, a teenage boy in the fam, whose mind has been affected by ‘The Shred’ obviously distrusts the stranger. Bee is very taken by him and makes excuses to be around him. Evie does not trust him but there is an obvious chemistry between the two of them. The stranger falsely claims to be the family’s long lost elder brother/son Luka (who apparently had an incestuous relationship with Bee in the past and who they believe will return). Bee believes this immediately but the others are not so sure. The matriarch agrees that he can stay for as long as it takes to provide Bee with a child but that he must leave after that. Learning about this, the stranger murders the mother and points the finger at Gabe (exposing him to further effects of The Shred, which renders him completely comatose and unable to defend himself against the accusations). We learn that the stranger is not affected by the virus. Evie blames herself, that it was her fault in the first place as Gabe went outside as a child when she should have been watching him. They agree to changing the way they do things and the last scenes show them accepting their new path as a group. In the last scene we see Gabe come across proof that none of the family are the original family members, that no one is who they believe themselves to be, before he is shot by the stranger.
It’s really hard to sum up this film well, because there’s a lot going on. First off, I loved this film so much. It was utterly beautiful.
Musically, they stripped down the film to its bare bones which was excellent and I’ll explain why. They included some sounds to create tension but most of the noticeable ‘music’ in the film was from the actors themselves through these folk songs about their history. They had them singing beautiful acapella folk songs with lyrics such as “Hold your breath, the shred hollows all. Minds erode like rust.” Folk songs historically are devices used to pass down stories of strife through generations so this stylistic choice inclusion was really smart and a concise way of quickly explaining to the viewer what happened without having to be like “and then so and so happened and we did so and so”. Having read a couple negative reviews, it looks like this film was criticised for not explaining more about the world outside of the house, which I would disagree in light of the folk stories and songs. The stories of the past are there if you just listen, but obviously they’re all from the family’s insular perspective. They don’t really know what happened outside of the Glasshouse. Using these folk songs also makes the landscape very quiet, which in itself is tense, and it made me feel like I was there. Similar effect to the ‘A Quiet Place’ film… it feels very sinister and uncomfortable to not have your ears barraged by constant soundtrack and that pulls you right in, making any sound you do hear more poignant.
This is funny to say but I enjoyed even the name of the virus. Like imagine if there was an airborne virus with the potential to take out even the most intelligent scientists on the planet who might typically give it a convoluted, medical name like ABC298309, and all is left is this literal name. It shreds your memories so this family call it The Shred… it was a cute touch.
Obviously the concept is not unique.. pandemic and family trying to make it work.. stranger intrusion etc etc. What’s interesting about this particular take is that the longer you watch this, as their stories unfold, you realise how little you know the characters. Usually the longer you watch a film, the more you understand right? However, in Glasshouse, the more you watch the more you realise these people are actually complete strangers to you. Not only that but they don’t even know that they are not who they say they are. They’ve been told a line through these folk songs and the stories that this mother figure has told them and the stories they etched on their window (like caveman paintings on the inside of a cave) and in a world of uncertainty, they take all of that as complete truth… which we later discover is not the case. Why would they ever question it, you might ask? I mean, in light of the actual truth, even if they had been told they probably wouldn’t remember… This makes this story and its truth kind of timeless because you learn the truth and you’re like ‘wait a minute… wait a goddamn minute… how long has this been going on?’ There’s no way for you to say exactly. It has the potential to be timeless, or in the very least it means the pandemic may have happened centuries and centuries ago. *POW* Mind blown…
One cool and annoying thing is that these characters, through their mottos and mantras tell you the reveal throughout the film, but you don’t see it until the end, for example “everyone has their place”… or “in a world of madness, we have found order”. It’s that choice of words which doesn’t seem important until you get to the end, and you realise that these choices of words are vital. ‘Found’? Not created order, but found…
And the last thing is that with the exception of the matriarch and Evie, it seems – and again you don’t discover this until the end – that everyone has actually succumbed to ‘The Shred’. The fact that these stories are able to be rewritten so many times by this ‘family’ kind of proves that. It also broadens the meaning of ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ you initially come to understand and definitely makes it a hell of a lot less creepy.. and it also explains why there is never a patriarch mentioned. Because we are told they are a family I wondered about this, but it turns out there IS no patriarch because they’re not actually family(!) At least, that’s my theory.
I could honestly think about this film for days so I will just leave it there and close off by saying that this film is incredible. Beautifully shot. Really well acted. Creepy and twisted in many ways. Concept and the script are excellent. I’m gonna be thinking about this film for some time. A+, would watch again.
No quote this time so you’ll have to make do with a descriptive intro haha
Voted this year’s sci-fi-london.com film festival ‘short film’ favourite, I was really stoked that the fest decided to pair this film on Saturday evening alongside their final feature of the day (I’ll put my review up for the feature separately). I’ve not had a chance to see any of the shorts in person due to my work schedule this year. Thankfully, through the power of technology, Sci Fi London will be sharing their 2021 short film selection online from 27th October until 31st. You can get a pass here for only £12. I’m gonna be doing the same and will share some short reviews on this site for those films.
Okay, back to Scent of a Forest!
This film was directed by Servaes Dewispelaere and was his BA degree project, which is really impressive and I’m looking forward to seeing what he makes in future. It centres on a young woman called Ana, played by Eliza Stuyck, who works in a scent shop. It’s clear that in this dystopian world, the natural worldly things that we take for granted like trees, forests, beaches and so on are all gone. It’s never explained what has happened and the director didn’t explain their interpretation about this in the Q&A either, but it could be some sort of ecological disaster or perhaps nuclear fallout. Regardless, people appear to be dosing themselves with a golden orb drug which when broken, emits a scent of various things which no longer exist in this time. The only catch is that to buy this little orb, you need to sell your soul.
Ana and her boyfriend Peter, played by Luca Persan, talk about the drug. Peter brings Ana to his mother to show him the effects of the drug. Peter’s mother is almost comatose and is seen spooning water into her mouth like it is soup, but comes alive with dance when she inhales the drug in front of them. Peter and Ana are seen staring at the ensuing dance in a series of artistic shots. I particularly liked the shot of Peter seen watching his mother through a mirror reflection. Ana then admits to Peter that she sold her soul months back in order to have the drug. The final scene shows Peter buying the drug, sold to him by Ana who responds to him coldly, and it cuts to birdsong for the credits.
This is a really beautifully done short. It’s pretty unusual for me to get caught up in shorts, typically, but this one really pulled me in. It’s a great concept and not one many directors tend to tackle because obviously conveying scent in film is hard. What I liked about the way this director did it is that the prolonged effects of using this drug totally ravaged the body, so the stark difference between pre-smell to post-smell was visually obvious in that these people went from being non-respondent to dancing rhythmically, and the dances were as unique as we all are. For instance when Peter’s mum dances, it’s quite a manic style I guess, whereas Ana’s dance is more graceful. Obviously this drug, whatever it is, helps these people get through the days so they don’t really care that they sold their souls to get it. It seems that reality is an ugly place it exist in, in this dystopia.
The living quarters of Peter’s mum, which seemed to be an underground bunker and the dark/underground vibe that the film gave off implied, at least to me, that there had been nuclear fallout. Maybe all the forests burned down. I don’t remember there being any sunlight but maybe that’s just the impression I got; but definitely most of the filming if not all was either inside or in darkness. And with the end credits rolling the way they did with the birdsong, it had a strange effect on me as the viewer in that I could almost smell the forest as I expect Peter did. There’s something about certain cues as far as sounds go that can transport you to certain smells and visa versa, so this was a really cool device.
So all in all, excellent short. Not surprised it was voted the best short of the fest. Really looking forward to seeing more from Dewispelaere.
Directed by Grant Archer and Richard Miller, this film ponders the almighty question; What happens after we die?
I wasn’t originally planning on seeing this film but I was unfortunately ill and couldn’t see Exposure36 so I decided to come out to this one to get my sciencey fill!
So… Repeat!! In this film, scientist Ryan Moore played by Tom England, works for the research department at a university. While attempting to create tech that can interpret thoughts he stumbles across an altogether different invention which he believes allows him to reach people BEYOND THE VEILLLLL. We see him testing this tech on various people who had recently lost their loved ones. The tech itself looks like a selfie light wrapped in copper wire, connected to an old computer with the DNA slot looking like a CD drive, which I really love by the way. It’s pretty well known by pals that I happen to really enjoy sci-fi where the Tech looks like it is made out of vacuum parts so I enjoy tech that looks very DIY. Anyways. I digress. We soon learn that Ryan and his wife Emily, played by Charlotte Ritchie, have also lost someone dear to them, their young daughter Sam. It’s unclear what happened and the story leads us to believe that she was abducted by a hooded man after school. The loss has clearly put a massive strain on the relationship, and various attempts to tackle their problems head on are pushed under the mat.
Ryan becomes increasingly more intense and obsessed as the police investigation runs dry. With no leads, he takes it upon himself to investigate teachers and friends and ends up alienating them all forcing him into an even bigger introspective spiral. He hopes to make contact with Rebecca but each attempt fails. One day he finds that Emily has swabbed her DNA with the intent to use the machine to try to make contact (she stops short of actually doing so). Ryan continues and manages to make contact discovering that his child is indeed dead. Troubled by this discovery and after he temporarily manages to manifest her using the machine, he boosts the machine and finds himself transported to the day Sam disappeared. He tries to prevent her from being taken when she suddenly disappears and we learn **MASSIVE SPOILER** that the machine does not talk to the dead but to people sleeping and inadvertently kills those it makes contact with. The weight of this discovery is palpable. Ryan attempts to send a message to his computer in the past only for that message to start the loop all over again!
I enjoyed this one. The film had plenty red herrings baked into the story that made you think you were being taken in various directions only to end up somewhere completely different. It was really interesting being able to attend the Q&A because the director/writer spoke of just that in the writing process; that he had intended for the film to be a lighthearted ghostbusters-esque jaunt, but creativity had a different path in mind for him. Anyways, it would have been all too easy for the cause of Sam’s disappearance to have been the ominous hooded figure. Also, I really enjoyed the fact that we all thought we were watching a film about life after death and instead we were slapped in the face with IT WAS A TIME TRAVEL FILM ALL ALONGGGGGGG **SLAP SLAP SLAP**
The science/tech side of things felt like the right tone. You know, how scientists create new inventions in their basements… It’s murky and thrown together and a complete mess, all the while the scientist is telling you “IT’S COMPLETELY SAFE” when you know they have no idea what they’re doing. There were some laughable moments like that in this film where Ryan is asking these people, and by extension those of us watching the film, to trust him and for the most part we do. And then we learn that we really shouldn’t trust him. That he is stabbing in the dark, that this invention of his is actually killing him.. that his morality is totally called into question and fails, that he is stealing an unknown, radioactive chemical from the same university who are funding and trusting him in order to power this invention of his… and then there’s the moment where he intensely interrogates a teenage girl – the friend of his daughter – and when she doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear he starts to manhandle her and shouts at her I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE. I had to laugh at that point. Like no wonder she’s running from you, dude. Take it down a fricking notch! At no point does he recognise just how lost he is and that his attitude and this invention of his is hurting people. Even at the very end, his instinct is to use the machine to better this situation he has found himself in, the irony being that if he had taken a moment to really criticise himself, he would have realised that he is the cause of all his and his family’s pain. I was really hoping that Ryan would try to make contact with his past self and in doing so, would kill himself and save his and so many other’s lives, or to destroy the machine thus doing the same, but then it would not have looped so cleverly. So I’m willing to accept the discomfort and annoyance I feel towards the choices Ryan has ultimately made for a cool ending. Ryan really, truly believes that his invention could be used for good and can’t help himself; that was his undoing ultimately because it totally screwed him. I guess in hindsight, he never could help himself, and never will!
There’s a sub-storyline in there about who the real father of Sam is, but even though it’s this shocking elephant in the room that is hinted when Emily uses the DNA swab and then doesn’t get mentioned until much later, it’s not really important to the plot. To him, Ryan is Sam’s father and nothing will change that (which I think is really sweet). And again, it’s just a red herring to confuse the viewer anyways.
So all in all, liked the plot and the twisty turns. Interesting mish-mash of sci fi films (mixing life after death with time travel) and I think the causality was smartly done. Found it hard to suspend my disbelief looking at the invention, but I kinda loved that I knew what the component parts were. Enjoyable performances and some familiar faces. Enjoyed watching this one.