12 months of Kai [2021] [sci-fi-london.com]

“Begin setup…”


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.

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Glasshouse [2021] [sci-fi-london.com]

“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.

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Scent of a Forest [2021] [sci-fi-london.com]

**smells orb**


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.

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Repeat [2021] [sci-fi-london.com]

“Where do we go when we die”


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.

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Warning [2021] [opening night @ sci-fi-london.com]

“Can you really put a value on human life?”


Hurray Sci Fi London 2021 is here! A week long of curated short and feature length films, hosted by Sci-Fi-London.com at Stratford Picturehouse in London! I was honoured to have been invited by Louis, Marta and the team to opening night and I’m looking forward to checking out what else the week unfolds! Come watchalong with me. I’ll be seeing the following so come say hi:

Really wish I could see more but unfortunately I can’t this time. I’m gonna try and catch some of the shorts. Louis – the founder of the festival – recommended ‘The Scent of a Forest’ (directed by Servaes Dewispelaere) which the team voted as their fave short of this year’s lot so if nothing else, be sure to check that out and let me know what you think!

So, back to WARNING!

Warning, directed by Agata Alexander, starts out from the onset with a mechanic astronaut who is set on a personal path of disaster when the tech he has been sent to fix explodes, hurtling him into nothingness. He is given days to live.

Meanwhile on earth we touch on the stories, humanity and inhumanity of current life on earth. We see a woman who is released from the routine of her Alexa-esque connection to God 2.0 when one day it malfunctions and she is forced to continue her spiritual journey alone. There’s a teenage girl who hopes to make a bunch of money for a better life by allowing a random stranger to invade her consciousness for just a weekend which ends up taking a very dark turn. There’s a seemingly young couple meeting the fam for the first time, and we soon discover that the man in the couple is immortal while she is not. The mother does not approve. There’s the story of an elderly robot who cannot be sold, and we see a sliver of humanity in it as it dances with another robot/android, shrouded behind a curtain. There’s the guy who just can’t let the past stay in the past, much to the horror of his ex girlfriend. And a small child, looking to the sky, wishing her father home.

I thought it was a wonderful start to the festival. I wondered about the title of the film.. warning. Could the astronaut have warned people of what was to come? It felt like he could not have, which makes it all the more tragic. That he had to sit and watch it unfold. I imagined his death as he ran out of oxygen all alone in the vastness of space wondering if he could have done something. Was it our choices that should have served as a warning? That we were on a path of destruction? No. It appeared inevitable. That regardless of the choices the characters would have made, they were bound by the exact same fate. It amused me at least that the immortal elite were seemingly also bound by this and I thought to myself, they cannot buy themselves out of this quandary.

I noticed these images throughout of this sort of sterile, sanctioned life… Beautiful flowers covered with bugs living in little sealed greenhouses or cages in peoples home, almost like little reminders of life among perfect homes with perfect wallpaper of plants.

Each mini story could honestly have been a movie in itself and I think it was in the section on mortality where something was said that resonated for me in this film. That immortality makes life less precious and I think in some way that is true of this film. Sure. Each section could have been entire films, but it was the miniature nature of these different stories that ended up making this film so precious. All these small hints of life woven into an untidy, tragic story about the end of days. Of love and loss. Of a desire to connect in a modern time.

I think the main takeaway I had and perhaps this was the purpose of the film, is that it is itself a warning. How would you act? How would you wish to spend your last days on earth if you had a warning? With greed? Living in the past? With hope? With a loved one? Alone? Helpless? Would you have made different choices? What would make your life more meaningful?

So all in all, I thought this film was poetic. It managed to somehow pull off chaotic and tidy all at once. There were some pretty famous actors in the mix which was quite surprising to see. Overall enjoyed it and loved that the concept had me thinking for hours after I left the cinema. Would recommend checking it out!

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