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!

Tagged : / / / / / / / / / / / /

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!

Tagged : / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

Mirror Human [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“Please remember me…”


There is a LOT going on in this film and I feel like I didn’t do it justice watching it (my concentration wasn’t 100% in it), so I think I need to re-watch this.

This film follows three different interlocking stories around genetically modified replicas/androids called Transcendants. Their lives are tragically short and it explores their complicated stories. From the offset we find out that the world is quite barren and that these androids have been created with excellent genes for a variety of reasons, but at some point they become unacceptable to human society and the Mirror project (which is what they are called) is suspended.

There’s this evident sense of otherness for the Transcendants compared to humans. At one point someone says that they are “the epitome of the human condition”, that they are “not like us” and they are not capable of loving in the way that humans do. However, we see very quickly that they definitely are, for instance through Xiao-Sun (the Boxer) and Tien’s relationship which is so endearing. The interesting thing about Xiao-Sun as well is that as the android, he is totally being used by the system/the man as a form of entertainment for the masses. You see him being physically beaten for others’ financial gain and it’s obvious from this that Transcendants are considered the lowest of the low. Like they’re disposable.

The film explores what it is to be human. There’s one part of the film where one of the androids says “once you have a name, you can call yourself human” (the androids are assigned numbers) and that sentence really made me think is that the only thing that sets us apart? Perhaps it’s the self awareness of our identities? I was reading recently about why we can’t remember the first years of our lives (don’t ask me why, I just was!) and that our earliest memories don’t start to form until approximately three onwards. I believe it’s the New Zealand Maori who have the earliest record of childhood memories which is something like from 2.5 years old onwards, and that’s simply because their culture places importance on indigenous and family history. There’s this theory in all of this that our memories only form when we have the language to do so, that memories are connected to language and not feelings/emotions and so when I heard them say the sentence about humanity and your name, it reminded me of that theory. Because having a name is more than about identity, it’s about connection to memories and history and kin and collectivity. This is the rabbit hole I went down having watched this film…

Liang (who calls himself the delivery driver) and his best friend Jay who is an android have a great dynamic which I enjoyed. Jay says that he has perfect genes yet he cannot beat Liang in a race, and Liang says that fear of death is what pushes him to drive faster. I feel like this is something that you see in sports people a lot. In order to compete at the highest level, to run your fastest, swim your farthest and so on, you have to feel like you are putting everything of yourself into it. Like you are pushing your body to the absolute limit so that idea definitely resonated. Perhaps androids aren’t capable of doing that, or perhaps it’s that the Transcendants sole desire is to live so why would they push that far (to the point of imminent death)? Also, such a cute little Star Wars reference (BB8) through the little robot friend of Liang’s.

I enjoyed the soundtrack which was lead by very elegant piano bits and it swung between very whimsical and then super determined sounding.

There was one bit of the film which I didn’t quite understand, which was that at parts people were wearing breathing masks. When the Boxer died, they all turned to face the camera with these masks on and it was acknowledged that he was no longer alive. I might have missed that but I wasn’t sure what the ecological reason was behind that. Who were the people with the masks? Was the earth unlivable, or was it a specific area? And there was an unspeaking, smiling girl with pigtails handing out masks. Was she a Transcendant? What I got from that was that she was, and that her purpose was to sit in an area that would be harmful to breathe if you were human, but because she’s like this disposable android her job is to do just that and hand out masks. I might totally have my wires crossed about that though… I really wish that there was a Q&A for this film because I would have liked to question this.

So all in all, this film definitely gave me some things to think about but I’m not sure how I feel about the film. Nice soundtrack. I liked the concept. I found it a little too complicated for a single watching, so I’ll definitely need to watch it again. I liked the dynamics between the characters and I know I will be thinking about this film for a long while. Really polished film, seemed like it had high production values and I really felt the tragic nature of the android’s lives. If you have any thoughts, would love to hear from you readers!

Check out Mirror Human here. To watch it, you’ll need to buy a film or festival pass.

Tagged : / / / / / / / /

Replicas [2018]

“What if something horrible goes wrong?”

“Something already has…”


There aren’t many actors where I would watch anything they do regardless of what the negative reviews say of one of their films… but Keanu Reeves is one of them for me. The ratings on this film were startlingly bad but I decided to push through, because Keanu…

This is an age old story. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Start a family. Boy creates technology that can transfer memories onto an android…. You know, classic… Well it is classic in science fiction! It’s that question that sci-fi often asks: Could humans live forever? If brain activity is just electricity firing in our brains, can we transfer that? Store it on a data chip? Synthesise neurotransmitters and the like? Or would we lose something in the process? Our soul perhaps? What even is a soul? This film’s existence poses those questions, but not in a very thorough way.

Really it’s a stereotypical ‘crazy scientist’ gets in over his own head bit. Keanu’s human experiments have all failed, but when tragedy befalls him he decides to try one more time, because he’s GOT A GOOD FEELING ABOUT THIS ONE. Unsurprisingly, the subjects who are the guinea pigs in this attempt are not consenting and have verbally opposed his tinkering prior, so what he ends up doing is extremely unethical, and then it becomes a fight to survive…

There’s a lot in this film that doesn’t make sense. SPOILERS! Firstly, his life’s work is based around human to android transfer, but following the tragedy he decides to grow human clones in tanks of fluid and transfer their memories that way. Why would they have bothered using cadavers and building complex androids in all experiments prior rather than just growing humans in the first place if that were possible the whole time? Wait a second? Whatttt?

There’s one part where someone who disappeared early in the film, and is mourned for having done so, turns up and you’re like HOW IS THIS ACTUALLY POSSIBLE. It’s not. Keanu made sure of that. So why the 180 degree shift? There are loads of these WHO WHAT HOW questions, with plot holes that make no sense.

There was a nice little easter egg in the form of a sneaky Kurios picture in the background of one of the scenes. Kurios was a scientist (called The Seeker) who believed there was an “invisible world in his larger-than-life cabinet full of crazy ideas and grand dreams”. Sounds a lot like Keanu’s character in this film, eh.

All in all, I think that this was an experiment better left alone. Decent CGI but the massive plot holes and a confused storyline really left this film in the mud. Even Keanu couldn’t pull this film into life. Would not recommend..

Tagged : / / / / / / /