I am Ren [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“They want you to think you did it…”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sci Fi London 2020 – Shorts (part 2 of 4)

SciFi London 2020 had a selection of 41 excellent short films this year. Check out my reviews for shorts 11-20.


EXISTE!

Directed by Luca Zuberbühler, this short film centres around the destruction of a small theatre. A construction worker enters the site, only to find an underground world beyond his imagination. Really pleasing blueish hue to the opening section to the film. I think it was probably the old timey-ness of the music and the degrading dusty buildings but it reminded me of playing Bioshock but it was a similar creep factor. Enjoyed it!

GUARDIAN ANGEL

Directed by Günter Heinzel, this short is more like a horror with a sci-fi edge. A man gets a whatsapp message from an unknown sender, telling him to leave or he will be killed (which he ignores). The messages get progressively scarier, after which he flees leaving his lover in bed. Nice twist to the end. I’m glad I wasn’t watching this in the dark. Classic tense horror soundtrack using plucking and screeching violins. I feel like a lot of people are writing about this particular topic at the moment though so I’m starting to get a bit unfazed by it, but I did enjoy this.

HYPERNOVA

Directed by Tate Young, this short film is about a woman struggling to connect. From the offset we see her going about normal chores, working and so on wearing a spacesuit, which seems to be a metaphor for this struggle. It’s as if she is all alone floating in space with nothing but stars, until she actually does connect with someone just like her which gives her the strength to break away. It seems more like a commentary on the human condition and a desire to be seen as you are, than being anything in particular about space though it is told through this metaphor. Nice little story. There’s very little dialogue but still that emotion and intention comes through. Enjoyed the ending.

IN ABSENTIA

Directed by Peter Chownsmith, this short animated film follows a man’s struggle to make sense of the surreal please he finds himself in. I like the style of animation, and the landscapes are pretty surreal. The sound effects paired to the action on screen are not what you would expect which adds to the weirdness of it. And there’s repeated references to the heart in this; there’s a hole in his chest where his heart should be, he finds himself climbing amongst what looks like tubes, and then he’s confronted with a massive red pyramid that is covered with either tendrils or veins… so there’s definitely something in there about the heart. Also I say he, but that’s not clear. It could be also a she or they. There’s no dialogue to know this either way. It’s only a three minute film but I really enjoyed the ambiguity of it and it was just well made.

LIVING THINGS

Directed by Tom Cozens, this short film is centred around a world fallen to disease. The narrator is supposedly the only being who is immune and he is trying to find something called “The Beacon” where he might find others like him. There’s always a ‘beacon’, isn’t there. People always need a hopeful monolith to gravitate towards… Anyway, when the disease hit, the protagonist was a child and he has to learn how to survive for himself, hunt and study into his adulthood, all alone. He tries his hand at growing sunflowers but the snowy conditions he is living in are not right and they all die. “Maybe miracles only look that way because there’s so much bad in the first place… but if miracles happened all the time, they wouldn’t be called miracles” he says. After hearing a yell out of the blue, he decides to leave the warmth and safety of the hut he has been staying in to once again find this ‘Beacon’. It’s a very endearing film, and even though through most of this story he is an adult man, it still has this childlike nature to it because we’ve seen him grow up and also because he interacts with nature like he’s in awe. The same way a child would, like they’re seeing something for the first time. Really enjoyed this. It’s not conclusive to us as viewers if he ever found another human again because we don’t see one. We just see his reaction to something but we’re not sure what that reaction means; I really like that ambiguity. Good stuff.

LOGAN LEE & THE RISE OF THE PURPLE DAWN

Directed by Raymond C. Lai, this short film is about a spliff called Purple Dawn and also about record scratching/hip hop! It centres around an DJ called Logan Lee who is in love with his best friend Beatrice. Beatrice is dating a douchebag who might be one of The Darkness, which is like this creepy alien species. It is built on sections that are introduced like a scratching tutorial. With the help of his mum, and weed, he takes on the beast who seems (like Venom) to dislike music! It’s a mix of They Live and ‘Harold & Kumar go to White Castle’ (basically a weed film lol). AMAZINGGGGGG FILMMMMM. I was blown away by how funny and colourful and interesting it was and I immediately told my bro about it. I really want to see it expanded. I think it could make a very popular feature film. Just wow.

M1DAS

Directed by Razan Takash, this short film is about AI. It’s filmed in UAE and the lead protagonist is a woman called Cybele. It opens on Cybele being instructed to lead on an AI project called M1DAS run by her company Ex Nihilo, which supposedly allows you to create a cyborg child. There’s no explanation but I’m guessing in this world, humans are no longer procreating(?) and the hardware was created because of that. Anyways, shortly after booting up the AI, Cybele is instructed to terminate the AI child who progressively matches to her look. Cybele decides to ignore her directive and save the child. The film has a super futuristic look and the ending is well done and pretty bleak. I was willing something else to happen and staring intently at the screen, but it never happened. Great short.

MOMENT

Directed by Geoffrey Uloth, this short follows the story of a homeless woman and her interactions with two masked crusaders. The woman is dating a drug dealer who tells her to carry some drugs for him because ‘women don’t get frisked by cops’. She’s jumped and attacked by three masked men. Just when one of them is about to hit her, time stops and the two masked crusaders who can astral project, talk the woman through combating these assholes so she is ready for it when time resumes. Both parties talk about their own individual struggles. There’s a chase scene which is really really good and the story is so emotive that I was moved to tears and cried buckets of mixed emotions all the way to the end. Could really see this being picked up by Marvel and being made into an origin story. Cool references to Star Trek. Excellent short.

MUSE

Directed by Azhur Saleem, this sci-fi/horror short follows the works of an artist in a technologically advanced world. The artist has recently been turned down by an art exhibitor who does not like the art, which depicts faces in various stages of terror. The police are called after screaming is heard and asked to see what the artist’s android has seen, like it is being used as a type of surveillance. The police realise that he is lying to them and a fight ensues. The ending has a really nice, super creepy twist. The look of the android seem very influenced by video game Detroit, which features android’s with a similar chip on the temple and similar premise (specifically around breaking their coding) so I enjoyed this dark short. Worth a watch.

NEXT TIME

Directed by Talia Shea Levin, this short follows a couple on a road trip across the United States. There is a hint to the theme of the film through the clicking timepiece which you can hear at various points in the film, if you didn’t get it from the title or the billboards… There’s obviously a tense-ness between the two characters. It seems that their relationship is coming to an end. They stop at at a Time Travelling depot which you can use if you deposit 10 cents, although there’s no way for you to control where or when you end up in history so it doesn’t seem that safe… I like the billboards on their journey that talk about TIME TRAVEL as if it’s a normal part of their reality, which say things like “You were there tomorrow, come back yesterday!” Apparently the journey through time is exactly what they needed because they stop fighting after that. Nice little short. Not really much to it but enjoyable.

Thanks to all the creators for making and bringing these shorts to SciFi London 2020. I believe these shorts are only available to watch until the end of today (Sunday) but please do seek them out. My particular faves from this lot were: ‘Logan Lee & The Rise of the Purple Dawn’ and ‘Moment’ which I really get picked up into full features films. I’ll be adding reviews for the remaining shorts shortly!

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Sci Fi London 2020 – Shorts (part 1 of 4)

SciFi London 2020 had a selection of 41 excellent short films this year. Check out my reviews for shorts 1-10.


A MODERN MAGICIAN

This story, directed by Mark Heller, focuses on Jim, a quaint, nerdy kid who has obviously been bullied for much of his life. He takes a shining to a fellow schoolkid called Helen and it seems like he continues this crush or obsession into adulthood. He’s determined that he is different to others and that he has some sort of paranormal ability but it’s not totally clear if that’s the case. His main focus upon realising this is to exert as much power and influence of himself onto animals, in the form of killing them and he soon moves to larger targets. Or does he? I really found this short very uncomfortable, and I know this was the intention… even the narrator was saying how pathetic the protagonist was, but I think that creating this sort of character can be quite harmful because it seemed like Jim actually had quite severe and destructive mental health problems, even if his abilities were true. The abusive, stalker nature of his relationship to Helen as well… As someone who has been the subject and focus of unwanted attention, I didn’t really enjoy this unfortunately.

ADAM& EVE MK II

This very short story, directed by Sebastian Kuder, follows an android called Adam. He has just woken up from a human brain data transfer and is alone. He ventures around the ship that he is on, only to realise he is far from earth or any other planet. Even though there was no dialogue, it was quite an emotional thing to see Adam reach out and touch the window whilst he looked at far away planets. That sense of isolation really came through, and the emotion felt very human. But he realises he is not alone, for he has Eve. I thought that the colour schemes was a bit gendered which to me is quite basic, like it needn’t have been that way, i.e. Adam was blue and orange, Eve pink and purple. That idea of gendered colours doesn’t seem very futuristic. That said, the CGI was top notch, I liked the ethereal soundtrack and the symmetry of the shots was really good. Would be interested to see this as a feature. It’s so short that I had a lot of questions that went unanswered like who, what, how, when and where!

APPYNESS

This short, directed by Ryan Turner and story by Kathleen Roosa, follows protagonist Cassie who is applying for a job at a friend’s company and is using an experimental implant called APPY BETA (“Control your emotions, control your destiny!”) to control her emotions. Cassie has a Stepford Wives look to her, and in fact embodies the same desire for perfection. The film has pleasing colour tones, this blueish hue. I thought that it was acted in an over-the-top, forced Americanised way but I think this added to it. I really liked the ending, where the app glitches and Cassie is stuck in this DC Comics, Joker-esque, laughing gas mode. It’s for quite uncomfortable watching but in a really excellent, intense way. The smarmy Michael Buble-type music to end it on was a super nice touch as well. Good job, would watch again. I think it’s perfect as a short though. Nice and punchy.

BROTHER

This short, directed by Tulsi Shivaanand, follows two Chinese brothers living in what looks like London. The narrator at the top of the short film talks of an entity called Baku who dwells between the waking and the dream world and says to take this charm if you have a nightmare, use it to call the Baku but don’t call too much or you will invite the cold into the waking world. One of the brothers is having severe nightmares so, of course, calls on Baku to spare him these terrors which brings the cold… I thought this story was so original. I’m personally really interested in peoples dreams (message me your weird dreams, I love them). I just recently read ‘The word for world is forest’ by Ursula Le Guin with SOPHFIFEST’s THE READERS club, which was all about an indigenous people who believe the dream world and waking world are one. Check it out, dream-lovers. Anyway, I digress, check that book out. But also check out this short. I hope this gets made into the larger film. The concept is very cool and there’s scope for expanding this world. It would be cool to see what he is seeing in his dreams and explore this topic more because it could be a really spooky sci-fi/horror/thriller.

BUGS & NIXON

This short, directed by Jackson Lowen, follows two agents who are trying to trick a psychic into thinking they mean him no harm, dressed up as, you guessed it, Bugs & Nixon! The childlike look of the film is offset by the darkness of the film, i.e. their intent to murder this unusual child. I really enjoy the look of the Psychic, James, as I enjoy DIY films that look like they’re made with bit of vacuum cleaners and stuff like that though this is extremely budget. It’s obviously just a storage container filled with balloons and red paint and fake blood, and the acting is quite corny but it’s an enjoyable watch!

CEPHALOPOD

Directed by Lewis Peake, this short film follows the story of an experiment at N-CORP. It features someone called subject V22 who must complete tests using a special ability bestowed upon him through genetic/cyber enhancements. It appears he is doing so without consent and has to be ‘disciplined’ to take part, before he revolts and destroys the voice in the tannoy. It has the same grimey, handmade feel as an episode of Robot-Wars and I really liked it. Good stuff.

CIRCLE OF STONE

Directed by Mark Andrews, this short follows the case of missing girl, Maddy, in a rural town somewhere in the United States who reappears some 60 years after she went missing. She is found by a cop and they both find themselves in the middle of a strange, supernatural world of beings that look like black and white deer gods with swords called The Golden Ones. More cops are called out to the woods when the aforementioned cop is attacked but the strange beings pick them off one by one. The only survivor, Parker, wakes to find himself NOT IN KANSAS ANY MO’. Excellent choreographed sword fight scene and whooshing sound effects. Even though it’s set in the daytime, it’s no less gruesome. Could be spookier though. Props looked realistic and gross. Acting was a little corny but would be cool to see where this film goes because it could be a cool Sci-Fi/Horror feature with a bigger budget. Nice twist at the end.

CLEAR GOLD

Directed by James Copplestone Farmer, this Qatarian (yay!) short film follows the story of a dystopian water shortage and an astronaut who is on a mission on the moon to find a solution to this. The CGI is so good between the tech, the space suit and the landscape of the moon… The protagonist explains the dire situation humans are in and the wars that came out of this problem, as well as logging his findings as time is running out. It looks very futuristic and seems topical right now following the the SOFIA observation findings of the moon which shows us that the moon DOES have a viable water source (not just in shadowed craters but also on the surface where they had expected water to evaporate). I like that the short is exploring a real, human problem and condemns humanity’s failings: poverty, war, neglect, fucking up the planet and inequality, and it asks one important question: “Why do you deserve it?” Really excellent and important work. Well done to those who made this happen.

DEUS OTIOSUS

Directed by Mat Brady, this short translates to The Idle God, follows a pregnant hunter who has recently lost her husband. She is tracking a reclusive self proclaimed “gardener” who the others think has magical powers. The people need his help to get rid of a blight. Her journey leads her to a mystical small pyramid with ‘dangerous technology’ and she makes a discovery that will change her flat-earth world forever!! Costumes are excellent and I enjoyed the characters/script. It has Willow, Maid Marion and Lord of the Rings vibes to me and it was refreshing to see strong female and POC characters (mainly the lead protagonist)! I have so many questions that will go unanswered but mainly, what is the technology?! Is that what happened to us after things fell apart?! What happens when you put the headpiece on?! Nice short!

DOPPELBANGER

Directed by Sofian Khan, this black & white futuristic short starts with a human man having sex with a sex robot(?) which malfunctions during intercourse. His George II unit comes home from his human job and recharges after a long day working in real George’s job. George attempts to investigate what has gone wrong by contacting the owner of the serial who agrees to help him and they have a nice interaction. George II reports George to the cops after a perceived illegal action and a fight ensues. Excellent! The programmer is a woman (woohoo!) The look of the short is one of the most polished shorts of the festival so far that I’ve seen, the CGI/visual effects for the short are really well done, as well as the use of light/colour for emphasis. This HAS to be made into a movie!! Like who is George, where did the girl take the robot, what happens to her?! So many questions! Please make this into a feature because I want to know more about this world!

Thanks to all the creators for making and bringing these shorts to SciFi London 2020. I believe these shorts are only available to watch until the end of today (Sunday) but please do seek them out. I’ll be adding reviews for the remaining shorts shortly!

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Sci-Fi London 2020

SOPHFIFEST’s December 2020 WATCHERS club has been pushed back one week, but for a very good reason!


SCI-FI-LONDON 2020 is happening 8-13 December and due to COVID it’s going to be virtual this year. Cannot wait. Also, tickets are super cheap at £20.20 for the whole festival, or £5 per film if you only want to watch the odd film.

I’m particularly excited about the feature films (synopses below):

  • Live (08/12) – a dystopian story where humans aren’t allowed to be in contact with one another, which given our current COVID/lockdown situation seems very on the nose.
  • Mirror Human (09/12) – this film follows the lives of three characters and explores androids. The synopsis is quite elusive so I guess I will watch and find out!
  • Cosmic Candy (09/12) – a film about a hallucinogenic candy which looks really vibrant and trippy and full of action.
  • Minor Premise (10/12) – this film is about scientific experimentation gone wrong. Ethan finds himself fragmented into different timelines after trying to finish his father’s invention and has to rely on partner/colleague Dr Alli Fisher to find the answers. I’m excited to see how this thriller unfolds.
  • A report on the party and the guests (11/12) – this is a film about a creature on a secret mission but is also about a pandemic and humanity destroying itself.
  • I am human (11/12) – this film is about cyborgs living as part of humanity and explores the human brain and what makes us human.
  • The American Astronaut (11/12) – on my current watchlist. This is one of the top 100 science fiction films of all time, so I’m excited to finally see this.
  • Truth or Consequences (12/12) – the film is set in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (yes, this is a real place!!) and explores the concept of humans colonising new planets but what if you were left behind. I’m really interested in this idea, the further we advance into space exploration and I’m looking forward to this offering.
  • Skyman (12/12) – this film follows Carl who believes he will be the victim of repeat alien abduction. Is he right? Let’s find out! It’s also co-directed by Daniel Myrick of The Blair Witch Project! Woah!
  • I am Ren (13/13) – this film is a thriller about Artificial Intelligence and follows Renata trying to find answers to a mysterious event.

There are also 30+ short films this year to explore. Check them out here.

I’m really excited to see so much diversity in this year’s offering. This is the direction that science fiction film needs to be moving into. More women, more BIPOC/POC, more LGBTQ, more disabled, more neuro-diverse creators and actors. Representation FTW!

Get your pass soon: https://sci-fi-london.com/ SOPHFIFEST will be chatting about films seen on this site and normal social networks so check those out coming soon 🙂 ONE MORE WEEK! ONE MORE WEEK! ONE MORE WEEK!

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