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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Skyman [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“I looked up and there it was, just hovering, a giant black triangle…”


Only one more day left of SciFi London 2020, I’m so sad! I decided to only watch one feature film today after four straight days of science fiction, so I hope you enjoy this review of the second science fiction film of the day, Skyman.

Skyman, directed by Daniel Myrick (who was co-Director of the cult classic supernatural horror, The Blair Witch Project) is a documentary style film following Carl Merryweather who is famous in his town for having made contact with an alien. This alien supposedly spoke to him telepathically when he was 10 years old. The film starts 30 years later and interviews Carl, his family and people in the town to hear the story and see if there is any truth to it. Carl talks about his experience and describes the meeting, that he heard a low hum which he has heard multiple times since the interaction and that the alien had told him not to be afraid, that it was looking for someone like him. The film later follows him as he goes about his life, visiting family, at a UFO convention and while he is creating tech with a friend to help capture what he describes will be a return of the alien. He is convinced this will happen on his 40th birthday.

The fictional docu-makers don’t offer up their own critical perspective of Carl, but rather leave it totally open for viewers to make up their own minds. The style of this movie is quite DIY looking and at times appears quite rough like it’s made with a camcorder, but this add to the charm of the film. The ending of the film appears conclusive as to if Carl was right or not – but I won’t spoil the ending for you…

There’s not much to say about this movie. I really enjoyed it. It’s not a complicated film, with a complicated plot, but it was just done superbly. I didn’t stay for the Q&A this time unfortunately, so I missed what the director said of the film, but I loved that Carl wasn’t painted to be the ‘town idiot’ like many abduction type films out there. He seemed quite competent, and his resolute belief wasn’t creepy. It was endearing and almost childlike. I found myself wanting to believe too, for Carl’s sake.. I think that perhaps he had been stuck in the past his whole life, stuck in that moment when he was 10 years old, so his childlike, excited nature really came through in this film. Like even the fact he calls the alien a Skyman is something that a ten year old would do. An adult would call it an alien, but children say it like they see it. He came from the sky, he was a man (as far as young Carl knows) so he is SKYMAN.

So yeah, excellent film. Really glad to have seem it. Very endearing, well done film. Definitely, definitely go check it out.

For more info about the film, go here.

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The American Astronaut [2001]

“It is here where the story began.. the story of how I became a father…”


This 2001 film, directed by and starring Cory McAbee, is a really fun film and I’m so thankful that it was part of SciFi London 2020 festival’s feature films because I’ve been wanting to watch it for a long time.

The film follows Samuel Curtis, a merchant who deals in the procurement of odd and exotic items. He’s been tasked with bringing Monkeypuss the Cat from earth to a saloon on an asteroid to his old dancing partner and friend, the Blueberry Pirate. His friend pays him for the cat with a cloning device which can make a ‘Real Life Girl’ and tells him that he should take it to Jupiter and swap it for ‘The Boy who actually saw a woman’s breast’. You see, this planet seems to be full of working class, possibly miner men and there are no women there. The boy is brought out to them from time to time to sing and dance and describe the boob he saw as a way of motivating them to work. The Blueberry Pirate suggests Curtis take The Boy to Venus, which is inhabited by women and a ‘stud’ who they use to impregnate themselves. Apparently the stud has died and his family (on earth) want his remains so they can bury him. Curtis agrees to this plan.

Meanwhile he is being pursued by The Professor who also acts somewhat of a narrator for the film. Apparently he is pissed because it’s his birthday and he wants Curtis to sing Happy Birthday to him. He seems quite psychotic.

Curtis gets the boy and exchanges the case for him to the person running the joint who grossly says he will grow this girl and then marry her when she is 15, after which he will describe what the sex is like to the masses. But his plan is cut short because The Professor kills him and steals the case, still in Curtis’ pursuit. I’m actually really glad he did tbh…

Curtis comes across a space station where he is asked by miners to take another kid with him, who appears to be wearing some kind of gimp suit(?) and he agrees. Eventually they make it to Venus to make the swap and The Professor is there, but does he make the exchange? Does he have to sing Happy Birthday to the prof? Check it out to find outttttt.

This is such a fun, quirky film and having seen Cory the director talk, you can see it’s his own quirkiness come alive! He’s such a bubbly, nice person.

I really liked the music in the film. Most of the music was rock. Sounds like some Bruce Springsteen sort of influence at times, but also alternative or indie rock in there. It feels like a music video, and it could very easily be turned into a musical of some sort because there are lots of scenes where characters are singing and dancing. I wasn’t anticipating this but it was so joyful to watch. The lyrics are really weird and endearing (just my kind of lyrics) e.g. “how can you keep on smiling while you see yourself in the mirror smiling” or “the girl with the vagina made of glass”. It’s the sort of film I imagine would be played a lot at this place called Prince Charles cinema in London, where they have a lot of quirky film sing-a-longs.

It’s filmed in black and white and has a old feel to it. Even the way people talk in the film comes off like it was shot in the 50s, which I enjoyed. Even their speech has the same timbre and spacing as a 50s film. It also has an old ‘Spaghetti Western’ feel to it for me particularly with the opening being in an old timey bar (though I know some people also think it’s more like Film Noir). It has that same grimey, dirty, gun-slinging, rough and ready feel that I remember from the Westerns I used to watch as a kid. Having seen the Q&A with the director, though, this was not intentional and it was actually inspired by his family who works/worked as car mechanics. He wanted to get that grimey, grease-monkey feel into the film.

What I especially like about this film – if you take out the singing and the dancing – it kind of feels like normal, working class people just getting on with living in space. Curtis flying about seems as ordinary as someone driving a car or a bus, like they’re all just normal people; some of them go to bars, they work, they listen to music, they have phasers that turn people into sand… you know, like normal stuff!

So all in all, I really enjoyed this movie. It was just a joy to watch. There’s not much too it. It’s not some complicated plot, but I loved how down to earth and quirky this space movie is and I can tell I will love it again and again and again in the future. I can see getting better with repeated watching. Definitely check it out.

Oh, and you should check out some of the other projects that Cory McAbee is working on. Stingray Sam is another of his past project’s. I haven’t seen it yet but apparently the series is really worth watching. He’s also working on this totally radical project related to terraforming Mars. The suggestion is to send your dearly departed’s corpses to Mars, to help terraform the planet. Isn’t that amazing?! Anyway, there’s more to read here.

Lastly, you can check out American Astronaut here. It’s available to watch for free!

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I am Human [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“What does it mean to be human? To me it means we can become anything we want…”


This documentary film, directed by Elena Gaby and Taryn Southern, explores the technological advancements of the world’s first cyborgs: Bill, Anne and Stephen

The film opens on Bill who became tetraplegic (unable to move his arms and legs) after a tragic accident. The film shows him currently living in an assisted facility and he explains that he just wants “to move from this point to that point” by himself.

Anne suffers from Parkinsons disease which affects the nerve cells making it very difficult to move about or do anything that requires fine motor skills. We also meet her husband who explains that Anne used to be an artist and hospital volunteer and that this disease has been detrimental to her life. She says “the biggest thing for me was that I would become useless…. a burden in the world” and that symptoms like not being able to smile made it impossible for her to connect with people, that it made her exhausted both physically and mentally.

Stephen has a vision impairment where all he sees is white, and he relies heavily on his sister for emotional and physical help.

We also meet a team of amazing scientists/engineers at a neuroscience organisation focused on “addressing a broken brain”. We see that the technology, which centres around using electrodes to stimulate the brain, hopes to solve some of our biggest problems with regards to diseases that inflict a lot of people. The life-changing impacts this technology has will affect millions of people; it was so cool to see what they’re doing around turning our brain impulses with its 100 billion neurons into digital code which could be manipulated to make those who can’t walk, walk again, those who can’t see, see again. It looks like the tech is in early days and is very experimental – and to some it may seem a bit Frankenstein (“for some people it’s a Sci-Fi step too far”) – but just imagine what we can do if we master our own brains!

They asked an interesting question in the docu: “Are we about to change what it fundamentality means to be human, and if so, are we okay with that?” I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes us human, during this film festival, and it’s not possible to attribute it to one thing. In “Mirror Human” earlier in the week, one of the subjects said that once you had a name you were human, and this docu suggests it’s our ailments that make us human, but it’s cannot be a single element. We’re too complicated for that to be the case. I wonder who we could be if we didn’t have to worry about health implications. Perhaps we would be free to be our truest, most evolved selves if we were free from health inequalities?

The docu also touched on the ethical questions that arise where this technology is concerned, particularly with corporations like Google and others vying for personal data… It warned of the “unchecked power” that they hold and asked us as the audience to really think about what we want for this technology in the future, because it belongs to all of us. With so much science fiction around the subject of implants (Black Mirror et al) and the potential corruption that comes with it, these are questions that require global, intelligent discussion. It concerns me that it would be targeted by any Elon Musk type personality who stands to gain financially from a patent like that which should be used for the good of humankind. Greed should not even factor into decisions of this magnitude. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I frickin love Google. I have Google everything, but do I want them in my brain as well? Hell no.

In conclusion, it was amazing to see these technological advances, the massive health benefits given to the subjects we met earlier and to consider the theoretical implications. I’m really excited to see how this technology develops in the future. Thanks so much to the directors for making this because it’s an absolute gem of a film.

You can watch ‘I am Human’ here. But you’ll need to purchase a film or festival pass.

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Cosmic Candy [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“You must not do the things I do…”


Cosmic Candy almost didn’t happen due to budget constraints but I’m so glad it did. This film – a first time feature film for director Rinio Dragasaki – follows protagonist Anna. She works in a supermarket which stocks a product called ‘Cosmic Candy’ which is “a potent version of Space Dust/Pop Rocks that sends its user into a dreamlike, hallucinogenic state”. In real life, Anna’s world is drab and seems to be orderly which is illustrated beautifully through the almost militarily organised shelves at the shop and the shelves in her home, but behind the curtain Anna is spiralling. She cannot function in real life without some sort of drug.

One day her whole world is turned upside down by a young girl called Persa who has been abandoned by her father. He has supposedly told her he will be back for her. Anna is faced with caring for this child who pulls her more and more to reality and brings to the light her idiosyncrasies.

I really liked Anna’s character. She was a pretty complicated, dysfunctional person who just wasn’t capable of dealing with normality and had this childlike personality. You could imagine that she was a teenager and not a 30-something year old but she is also capable of change, and that’s what is so refreshing about her character. I noticed that as the film progressed you see that the shelves and the tidiness around Anna gets more chaotic as she unravels, and I really liked that device.

The visuals for this film are really really good. It’s trippy and vibrant and shows you the inner workings of Anna’s mind while she is on Cosmic Candy. However, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. There’s this repeated paranoia element within the trippyness, which if you have taken drugs and had a bad trip you will probably recognise. There are multiple moments in the film where Anna is at the centre of a larger audience’s ridicule, i.e. pointing, laughing and so on, but it seems like it’s probably all in her mind. It’s definitely the stuff that nightmares are made of, and seems to stem from this thing of wanting to be accepted when in reality she is kind of a loner (though some of that may be of her own choosing).

I liked the inclusion of (I think???) Debussy’s music through these weird celestial keyboard sounds which perfectly matches the trippy vibe of the movie. I also enjoyed the mix of ethereal, theramin sounds, and then also the very quaint, fun pop and electro songs, like the one about french toast, or computer song with its lyrics “I program my feelings away”. Computer humour snarf! 🙂 I see what you did there!!!

I noticed what might be an Easter Egg but I wasn’t able to ask the Director this. There is one scene where Anna is at her home. This is after she starts to spiral. I noticed a spinning tractricoid toy, like the ones in the film Inception. In Inception, the device is used so that protagonists can determine whether they are in reality or if they are in a dream (within a dream within a dream). If the toy doesn’t fall like gravity dictates, they know they are in a dream state and indeed in Cosmic Candy, you don’t see it fall, so I felt like that was a device to illustrate the dreamlike state that Anna was in. Its inclusion whether intentional or not made me really second guess if any of it was real as the story progressed. Maybe Anna was in a dream the whole time? Maybe the girl wasn’t real? Maybe the girl… dun dun daaaa WAS HERSELF?!

The film cascades with the ending sequence where Persa is due to act in a school play. The play is about Manto Mavrogenous, who was a revolutionary Greek commander and a woman (yeehar!!) so there are definite Feminist messages in the film. For those who don’t know, Manto was part of a secret society called Filiki Eteria which was a movement attempting to overrun the Ottoman empire which massacred the Greeks. I was really psyched to see this featured in the movie for my own personal reasons. My dad is Black (half Trinidadian/half Chinese) but my mum is actually Greek. Her heritage is of the Pontic Greeks who emigrated from the mainland to a mountainous region to the North of what is now Turkey called Pontus. Over many centuries of the Ottoman rule, Greeks were forced to leave Pontus to neighbouring countries for safety and things came to a head in the first world war where Pontic Greeks were taken from Pontus and ritually massacred or forced to take part in something called a ‘Death March’, which is where you are made to walk to concentration camps and those who have died along the way are left. My own great grandmother and grandmother (and her siblings) were actually caught in the middle of this but managed to escape from what would have been certain death, apparently into a forest and from there into mainland Greece (and similarly my great grandfather and grandfather escaped eastward to Georgia). So the strength that they sing of about the fierceness of Greek women in this story is something that I feel very strongly in my own family history, and Anna definitely channels that strength for herself. Brava! Anyways, I digress.

So all in all, I really enjoyed this film. I wasn’t sure at first what made it sci fi but then any world which would legalise hallucinogenics must be an alternate reality (lol). It’s such a compelling story, with this underlying unease like something is very wrong and the visuals blew my MIND. Check it out!

You can watch Cosmic Candy here, but you will need to buy a film or festival pass.

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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.

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Live [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“I can’t live like this…”


This film, filmed in Frankfurt, Germany (and some other cool places) is set in a dystopian future. It was directed by Lisa Charlotte Friederich (who is such badass bitch, which I mean to the highest respect possible) and the story follows police woman Claire and her brother Aurel who are both trumpeters. In this new world order, humans are no longer allowed to meet in groups, touch one another, smoke (or anything else that’s fun) as it is prohibited. There are strict curfews in place and the consequences of going against these are dire.

At the offset of the film, we see both Claire and Aurel (who live in the city/country respectively) performing at virtual gigs using VR technology. Before long we are taken to the scene of a crime where around 20 people are dead. It is clear that they had organised some kind of gathering and are referred to as “terrorists” by ‘The Institute’ (a sort of police surveillance entity); although I didn’t quite understand how they came to die, only that this was clearly the aforementioned consequences of breaking the rules. (I might have missed that… Honestly… I was making a snack!) I do really like it when you don’t have all the answers handed to you though, so I personally really liked the omission.

Claire heads to the country and inspired by the actions of the ‘terrorists’, talks her brother and two friends into organising a live gig. Did they make it happen? Did they get away with it? Well, you’ll have to watch the film won’t you?!

The most striking thing about the film is the music. The film features an excellent soundtrack, produced by Rike Huy and Jooseten Ellee. It’s a mix of electronic synth, jazz and classical and is incredibly well done and beautiful. Both the story and the music fit like a glove together. At one point I remember thinking “how can they make a single repeated synth note make me feel so tense right now?!” Because they’re wizards, that’s how. It’s the only explanation.

The city sections of the film were very disparate cinematically from the later country scenes, and I really liked that. The city was dark and sultry, smokey, almost bleakly monochrome; I personally got some film noir vibes from it. Claire lived in a Brutalist cement building that gave the impression she was metaphorically living in a prison cell which seemed to reflect the consensus in the city. In the country where Aurel lived, everything was much more open including the people; the shots seemed wider, the buildings more airy, the greens greener.

I really enjoyed the strange dynamic between the two siblings. There was this strong competitive feeling from both of them (including relating to sexual conquest) which you can see from the beginning scene where both are performing and the camera slices from one performance to the other. It was actually really interesting seeing the Q&A afterwards with the director because she mentioned that she was very influenced by Cain and Abel and I definitely see that mirrored in the story. She also mentioned that she wanted to illustrate how talent is not always fairly distributed and that was explored in a musical way. Perhaps that inequality is part of the reason their relationship is so strained. The relationship between Claire and her mother is also cold and distant, and their interactions make Claire seem very vulnerable.

The subject area of the film itself is obviously really topical right now, with so much of the world in COVID-19 lockdown, though interestingly the director created the film in response to terrorist attacks in Europe.

All in all, I really enjoyed the film. The concept is original and brilliant, and had these 1984/totalitarianism vibes going on. The film made me feel this inner dread throughout like I was waiting for something bad to happen but the ending was quite unexpected. I didn’t think the film was super polished but I know the director made the film on a very strict budget so that’s totally understandable. Really good storyline, amazing soundtrack, an excellent first SciFi London 2020 film of the year. Definitely well worth a watch.

The film is available here if you want to watch it, but you’ll need to buy a film or festival pass.

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