Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

High_Rise_2014_Film_Poster

Director: Ben Wheatley

Screenplay: Amy Jump

Country: UK

Runtime: 112 mins

Cast: Tom Hiddleston (Dr Robert Laing), Jeremy Irons (Anthony Royal), Sienna Miller (Charlotte Melville), Luke Evans (Richard Wilder), Keeley Hawes (Ann Royal), Reece Shearsmith (Nathan Steele)

A mordantly witty adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel about a concrete apocalypse

Watching the opening scenes of High Rise, I found myself musing how film adaptations of a book one has previously read can change forever the way you envision the book. I can’t now read J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun without imagining Christian Bale and John Malkovich as the main characters. I also recall one contemporary reviewer expressing disappointment that the film’s depiction of drained swimming pools – one of the central motifs in many Ballard stories – just seemed a bit underwhelming when viewed on the big screen.

It will probably now be impossible to read High Rise without imagining Tom Hiddleston as physiologist Dr Robert Laing and Jeremy Irons as architect Anthony Royal. But I am delighted to report that Ben Wheatley’s film really brings to life the imagery and spirit of Ballard’s novel. More than anything, he brings to the fore the mordant wit of the book (something I recently discovered upon re-reading but missed entirely when I read it as a younger man).

The story begins with Laing cooking a dog on the balcony of his apartment, part of a luxury tower block complex that has somehow gone to wrack and ruin. Then we flash back to the early days of the building three months before in order to learn just how the concrete apocalypse has come about. The inhabitants are all middle class professionals, but even within this privileged group social divisions arise and are exacerbated as the building itself becomes increasingly dysfunctional. People don’t care about those two or more floors above or below them and, in particular, those on higher levels have greater disdain for those further below them.

In a dreamlike fashion (reminiscent of Wheatley’s earlier A Field in England) anti-social behaviour escalates, from people blocking the rubbish chutes with used nappies, to parties that get out of hand, through to outright violence. As food stocks run out living takes on the characteristics of an urban hunter-gather existence, with the stronger men vying to monopolise the female inhabitants. Where Ballard presciently satirised the behaviour of a group of proto-Thatcherites, Wheatley is more explicit about the political nature of the material. Following an uproarious party on the middle levels, Royal’s acolytes plan a grander party to show the others how it ought to be done. As one of them explains, competition is at the heart of a modern economy. They then decide that the first step in their party planning must be to commandeer all the resources, surely as pointed a commentary on the nature of capitalism as it’s possible to make? High Rise actually closes with an excerpt of a speech by Margaret Thatcher.

Tom Hiddleston is totally convincing as the canny survivor “hiding in plain sight” who, as with so many of Ballard’s protagonists, embraces the catastrophe around him. And Jeremy Irons is an inspired piece of casting as the patrician architect of the luxury apartment complex, who watches with fascinated amusement at the creation of a new kind of society within his decaying empire. From the men’s terrible moustaches to the cars in the parking lot, Ben Wheatley does a great job of depicting the mid-seventies whilst nonetheless making it seem like the dystopian near-future that Ballard first envisioned. And if it won’t be possible to read his novel in the same way again, the same will be true of Abba’s song S.O.S. which is featured at several points in the soundtrack.

Rating: 5/5

Interstellar_film_poster

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writers: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan

Country: USA / UK

Runtime: 169 mins

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, MacKenzie Foy, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, John Lithgow, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Bill Irwin, Josh Stewart.

An entertaining and ambitious sci-fi epic

Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster, Interstellar, is an entertainingly ambitious, if flawed, sci-fi epic. It begins in a near-future where food supplies are dwindling, as a result of blighted crops. Presumably this is the result of global climate change, although this is not spelled out and, in fact, we never go beyond rural America to find out what is happening elsewhere in the world. The opening scenes are given a documentary feel thanks to the inclusion of some talking head segments from senior citizens reminiscing about the ‘dust bowl’ that they had lived through (these are actually clips of people describing 1930s Dust Bowl America).

Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a widowed former engineer and NASA pilot who now reluctantly farms corn. His daughter, Murphy (MacKenzie Foy), is a chip off the old block but her brainiac tendencies don’t go down well at school, where the kids are taught that the Apollo moon landings were a hoax designed to prompt the Soviet Union into wasting money on rockets and other “useless machines”. Cooper is told that his children would be better off “learning about this planet, rather than reading fantasies about leaving it”. But when “Murph” becomes convinced that there is a ghost in her bedroom, Cooper’s investigations uncover a gravitational anomaly that is causing strange dust patterns on Murph’s bedroom floor. This discovery leads them ultimately to a top secret NASA base.

Because the American public no longer have any appetite for exploring space, the agency is now operating in a clandestine fashion. Their Lazarus Project, headed by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), has been sending missions to planets beyond a wormhole in space. Cooper is recruited to lead another mission beyond the wormhole, together with Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romilly (David Gyasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), and robots TARS and CASE (voiced, respectively, by Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart). The wormhole appears to have been constructed by some alien intelligence, so Plan A is to return with the technology to save the Earth, but if this fails then Plan B is to recolonise a planet with the stored fertilised seeds from a variety of humans. However, Cooper is desperate to return from the mission because he wants to save his family. In addition, thanks to Einsteinian relativity Cooper’s children will age faster than him in his absence, therefore it is imperative for him that the mission goes as smoothly as possible (needless to say, it doesn’t).

For much of the first half of Interstellar, I couldn’t help ponder with some amusement as to whether the film would enrage some of the more anti-science US Republicans. You know, the ones who deny the reality of man-made climate change, who think it is arrogant to believe that people could disrupt God’s work, and who think that the end-of-the-world will involve the faithful being transported to heaven in the “rapture”. Whatever its faults, Interstellar comes across as a resolutely pro-science film, asking us to think beyond our immediate concerns and to work for the good of our species. A scene where we learn that school textbooks have been revised to show that the moon landings were faked brings to mind those American school districts that have tried to remove or water down material on evolution. Whilst some of what passes for scientific explanation in Interstellar is Dr Who-style hokum, nonetheless in a wider sense it treats its audience as intelligent adults, particularly in the aspect of the storyline that relates to relativity.

The second half, or perhaps final third, of the film is somewhat weaker as the ideas are gradually submerged beneath a swathe of frenetic action, except close to the schmaltzy ending where we get an outlandish explanation for certain events that occurred earlier on. The acting is serviceable, rather than outstanding, though this probably isn’t the kind of film that is likely to produce Oscar-worthy performances. However, even though a fair bit of suspension of disbelief is necessary, Interstellar is never less than entertaining.

Rating: 8/10

Lucy_(2014_film)_poster

Director: Luc Besson

Writer: Luc Besson

France 2014

Runtime: 89 mins

Scarlett Johansson develops superpowers in a movie that’s as enjoyable as it’s preposterous

Lucy is a big dumb action flick that features the world’s biggest female star right now. Ironically, though, the plot revolves around an intellectual conceit, the idea that people only use ten per cent of their brain’s capacity. As any psychologist can tell you this is baloney, but as long as you don’t mind overlooking such nonsense then Lucy is a lot of fun.

The story begins at a Taipei hotel where the title character finds herself coerced by a dodgy boyfriend into delivering a package to some terrifying Korean gangsters. At gunpoint Lucy ends up having some sort of packages inserted into her stomach, one of which bursts following an assault by a guard. The chemicals released into her bloodstream lead to some dramatic changes whereby Lucy begins to utilise previously dormant cerebral capacity. Fortuitously, these changes turn Lucy into a kick-ass warrior, enabling her to escape her captors.

Meanwhile, in the world of academia one Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) is giving a presentation on the next steps in human evolution which, he tells us, will hinge upon accessing the brain’s hitherto untapped capabilities. Once again, scientists in the cinema audience will be holding their heads in their hands as the Professor’s powerpoint slides depict the entirely fallacious “Great Chain of Being” – the idea of an evolutionary progression from beings crawling on the ground to humans standing upright (contrary to the idea of linear progression we did not, for example, evolve from the Great Apes; rather we share a common ancestor with them).

Professor Norman speculates on what human abilities will be untapped if and when we are able to use twenty per cent of the brain’s capacity. Elsewhere, Lucy is already going beyond this figure. She is heading towards using one hundred per cent of her brain’s capacity, but the downside is that her body will not be able to survive beyond twenty-four hours. Whilst fending off the bad guys who are hunting her down Lucy needs to contact the Professor and find a way to transfer her newly-acquired knowledge for the benefit of humankind.

In essence, Lucy is The Matrix meets Lawnmower Man via 2001: A Space Odyssey. Scarlett Johansson’s is, as ever, a magnetically watchable presence. Her performance here as the otherworldly Lucy, who has abilities no-one else can even fathom, is not a million miles from the alien she plays in Under The Skin. Happily, the potential for the film to be overwhelmingly portentous is offset by some moments of fine humour. In one such moment Lucy is driving a car at breakneck speed through oncoming traffic. In the passenger seat a terrified police officer, Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked), cries out “You’ll get us killed!” Channeling her brain’s expanded wisdom, Lucy says in a throwaway manner: “We never really die”.

Lucy is a straightforward summer action movie. Don’t expect too much. Leave your brain at the door, sit back, and enjoy.

Rating: 7/10

Edge_of_Tomorrow_Poster

US/UK 2014

Director: Doug Liman

Writers: Christopher McQuarrie. Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, & Hiroshi Sakurazaka (novel)

Runtime: 113 mins

It’s déjà vu again in this cracking sci-fi action blockbuster

You have to hand it to Tom Cruise. At the age of 52 (I had to look that up) – my own age – he passes for about 10 years younger and still makes a more-than-credible action hero (apparently there is also another Mission Impossible on the way). His latest action role is that of Major William Cage in Edge of Tomorrow, a sci-fi blockbuster based on the novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (in the novel Cage is just 20). Planet Earth has been invaded by alien creatures, known as “mimics” because of their ability to copy and respond to the human race’s military strategies. However, the development of a new high-tech military combat jacket has enabled Earth’s soldiers to put up a fight against the invaders.

Despite his rank, Cage is not a combat soldier – he does marketing and recruitment. He therefore protests when ordered to take a camera crew to the front line, gets knocked unconscious, and duly finds himself being kicked awake in the rank of Private. He is fitted with a combat jacket that he barely knows how to operate, dropped into the heat of battle (brilliantly depicted in all its terrifying confusion), and shortly afterwards gets killed by a mimic only to find himself being kicked awake again earlier that day. Cage repeatedly relives this day, his accumulation of experiences enabling him to live a little longer each time until eventually he has a battlefield encounter with Rita Vratasky (Emily Blunt). She is literally the poster-girl for the military, those posters reading “Full Metal Bitch”, following her major victory over the aliens at Verdun. Vratasky knows why Cage is continually reliving his day, because she used to have the same time-travelling ability. Together, they must exploit Cage’s ability in order to find and destroy the alien “brain”, a collective supermind that controls each individual alien.

It is not too hard to spot that Edge of Tomorrow is a melange of movie influences, namely Groundhog Day, Source Code, and Starship Troopers. But whilst these influences are obvious, Edge of Tomorrow works in its own right and is actually great fun. The film does not take itself too seriously and the script is very witty in places, especially in charting Cage’s progress from bumbling PR man to seasoned soldier. When Vratasky explains the cause behind Cage’s time-travelling ability (or perhaps “affliction” might be a better word), she also explains that he must die every day until the alien brain has been destroyed. Accordingly, she occasionally has to despatch Cage herself once his fighting skills have enabled him to survive the aliens unscathed.

Although action flicks of this sort aren’t too much of a challenge for the acting skills of A-listers like Cruise and Blunt, they throw themselves into their roles and have a good onscreen chemistry. The only slight irritation I had was some slightly shaky camera work in one of the action-free interior scenes. Camera movement in this context was obtrusive and rather pointless, but fortunately it did not last long. More importantly, the 3D version worked well, as it so often does for films with lots of crashes and explosions. Filming took place in England, and for many British viewers there will be a certain piquancy to scenes of futuristic battle craft passing over the iconic chalk cliffs on England’s south coast, reminiscent as this is of the journey made by many aircraft during World War 2.

In terms of story, Edge of Tomorrow isn’t quite in the same league as Cruise’s earlier sci-fi outing Minority Report, but this is one of the best action blockbusters you are likely to see this year.

Rating: 8/10

OXV

Is your life determined by your frequency?

UK 2013

Director: Darren Paul Fisher

Writer: Darren Paul Fisher

Runtime: 105 mins

Retitled as Frequencies in the USA.

 

**Mild spoilers included**

Since time immemorial young people have had to negotiate obstacles to their relationships. Typically, these come in the form of parents, love rivals, class barriers, or just lack of interest from the object of one’s desire. Now, in possibly the most cerebral boy-meets-girl movie you are ever likely to see, writer/director Darren Paul Fisher has found a new way to keep young couples apart. He has imagined a world very much like our own, except for one thing. In this world scientists have discovered that people differ in the types of “frequencies” they possess. Not only are high frequencies associated with higher levels of intelligence, but with higher levels of luck too. For it turns out that people’s frequencies are also linked to the physical environment, and good things just happen to fall into place for the lucky ones possessing high frequency. Moreover, a low frequency and a high frequency person are not allowed to spend more than one minute per year in each other’s company, because to do so would be to disrupt the natural order of the physical world, whereupon bizarre events occur.

Crew and cast members at the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival

Parents, of course, want their children to be high frequency but there is one drawback: the higher the frequency, the lower the empathy possessed by the person. Young schoolgirl Marie (Lilly Laight) is high frequency and possesses an astonishingly high IQ, but lacks empathy and so cannot have feelings for others. However, she has learned to display facial expressions that convincingly mimic the expression of actual emotion. Zak (Charlie Rixon) thinks Marie is lovely, but although his IQ is (merely) above average he is low frequency. In an arresting opening scene, we see the school’s children lined up in a corridor, all wearing school uniform, and all clutching shiny green apples. As Marie stands at the front of the line on the left, an apple rolls up beside her foot. It is Zak’s apple, and as she hands him it back she flashes a beautiful smile that quickly vanishes as she faces forwards again.

We later learn that the rolled apple was no accident, but a deliberate action engineered by Zak’s friend Theo (Ethan Turton). As time passes Theo and Zak work together to figure out a way for Zak to be with Marie. In turn, Marie is willing to meet Zak for brief periods as part of her own experimentation with the effects of frequencies. During one such meeting as teenagers, Zak (Dylan Llewellyn) and Marie (Georgina Minter-Brown) extend their meeting – in the school field – past the course of a minute. As they do so, a bunch of suitcases from a passing airplane crash surreally into the grass, illustrating just what can happen when there is a clash of frequencies. But whilst Marie lacks empathy, and so cannot feel anything for Zak, she wishes that she did have feelings. This spurs Zak on in his attempts to find a way to be with Marie.

Director Darren Paul Fisher answers questions at Sci-Fi-London 2014

Later, Zak – now a young adult, played by Daniel Fraser – turns up at Marie’s house (Eleanor Wyld plays adult Marie) and announces that he has found a way for them to be together. He only partially explains to her how this works, but it transpires that certain two-syllable non-words can affect the physical surroundings, preventing the usual disastrous effects of two mismatching frequencies meeting. Zak’s and Marie’s frequencies move closer to each other and she falls in love with him. However, because – unknown to Marie – her feelings are the result of his manipulation, can her love be real? On the other hand, she wanted to be able to have feelings, so isn’t it just an expression of Zak’s own love that he gave her what she wanted? Where does free will enter into all of this? Is there such a thing? Philosophical questions about the manipulation of frequencies become especially pressing when Theo publishes “The Manual”, a book that enables people to engineer events in ways that suit themselves.

The dangers of creating a complex set of intellectual problems in a movie are that the eventual solutions aren’t entirely convincing. OXV: The Manual is no exception, and the way matters are resolved is possibly a touch clichéd. However, by this point I had enjoyed the story, and the very impressive performances by the entire cast, so much that my goodwill towards the film allowed me to not mind the slightly obvious nature of the ending. Speaking of the cast, there were two particularly notable things about the performances. Firstly, the actors who played the characters as children were superb. Their performances were very natural and assured, which is quite a feat when so much depended on facial expressions. Secondly, with different actors portraying the characters at different ages it was remarkable just how consistently those characters behaved in their different incarnations.

Rating: 9/10

LFO_official_poster

 In this very funny sci-fi farce a bereaved misfit discovers that he can use low frequency sound waves to control people 

Sweden / Denmark 2013

Director: Antonio Tublén

Writer: Antonio Tublén

Runtime: 94 minutes

 

Awarded Best Feature at the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival, LFO is the second film by Swedish director Antonio Tublén. It is a deliciously funny and sinister story about one man’s malign use of technology, as though the spirit of domestic farce has collided with J.G. Ballard, with a touch of gothic thrown in for good measure.

Patrik Karlson plays a lonely and depressed widower, Robert Ford, whose wife and son were killed in a suspicious car accident that is currently under investigation by the insurance company and police. When he is not busy cooking and eating eggs – whether this is meant to be indicative of Ford’s dullness or whether it has some deeper symbolic meaning is anyone’s guess – Ford spends most of his time in the basement among a tangle of wires and gadgets, where he conducts research into sound waves together with Sinus-San (Erik Börén), who he speaks with via radio. He means to find a treatment for a mysterious self-diagnosed “sound allergy”.

One day Ford discovers that a combination of low frequency oscillations (the LFO of the title) appear to have an hypnotic effect. When a young and attractive couple move in next door, Ford uses them as experimental guinea pigs for his discovery. During coffee with neighbours Simon (Per Löfberg) and Clara (Ahnna Rasch) he slips out of the room, puts on a pair of headphones, then switches on the sound oscillations. Returning, he instructs Simon to come round and wash his windows, and tells Clara that she has started to find him rather attractive. It works, and after further successes Ford breaks into his neighbours’ home and installs sound equipment so that he can direct their lives from his own house. Before long Ford is regularly having sex with Clara, whilst Simon is alternately relegated to the roles of obedient child and butler.

However, despite the success of the experiment things do not go smoothly for Ford. Sinus San turns up to accuse Ford of cutting him out of the work they had been developing together, and threatening to derail his project.  The police show up looking for the neighbours, who have been reported missing. A representative of the insurance company also calls by as part of their ongoing investigation into the car crash that killed Ford’s wife and son. Ford deals with these unwelcome visitors (Or are they figments of Ford’s imagination? A reference to Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe early on may be a clue**) the same way – by hypnotising them. But there is one visitor that Ford cannot dismiss so readily. At regular intervals the apparition of Ford’s dead wife appears to him, possibly as a ghost but more likely a manifestation of his own unconscious mind and conscience. She reminds him to take his medications, accuses him of causing her fatal car crash, and castigates him about the unethical nature of his sound experiment.

At one level, LFO is a warning about the way that technology can be exploited to satisfy our baser natures. At another level this is simply a very funny science fiction farce. Patrik Karlson’s doleful depiction of Robert Ford beautifully captures this misfit’s depression, but also makes the comic moments all the funnier. The subjects of Ford’s hypnotic suggestion, and especially Per Löfberg and Ahnna Rasch, are terrific at switching between their non-hypnotised and hypnotised selves with just a slight change of facial expression. The fact that the entire movie takes place within interior environments, and with no whizz-bang special effects, is a perfect demonstration, if demonstration is needed, that it is imagination and writing that are at the heart of all good filmmaking.

I don’t want to give a spoiler here, but the end of the film is a startling and hilarious delight.

Rating: 10/10

** I tweeted Antonio Tublén about the pipe image; he said in fact it wasn’t a deliberate reference to Magritte’s painting, though he was playing throughout the film with what’s real or not.

Hungerford (1)

UK / Canada 2014

Director: Drew Casson

Writers: Drew Casson & Jess Cleverly

Runtime: 79 mins

When Hungerford was introduced to the audience at Sci-Fi-London, the festival organiser Louis Savy joked that there was a lot of love in the room for this film but a lot of hate outside; the reason being that other directors would be sick at the attention being garnered for a first time feature by a 19 year old director who has not been to film school.

Hungerford is a low budget feature, produced by start-up film funders Wildseed Studios, but by any standards it is a hugely enjoyable and accomplished film. It pulls off the neat trick of being considerably more than the sum of its parts. Firstly, it is a found footage movie, which is a technique you might have thought had run out of steam. Secondly, whether consciously or unconsciously the writers would appear to have been heavily influenced by Shaun of the Dead (with maybe a pinch of Hot Fuzz and 28 Days Later added for good measure). Third, this is more or less a zombie film, which is itself a genre that has rather been done to, er, death, in recent years.

Plotwise, the story is straight out of Shaun of the Dead: A young man without much direction in his life has to rally his only semi-responsible friends when the people in their town become zombies (actually possessed by alien entities). This includes making a trip to rescue the girl with whom he has a rather on-off relationship and who takes a rather dim view of his own friends. What makes this so much more than a merely derivative film, however, is the sheer verve with which the story is told, the convincing performances of the actors and especially the excellent chemistry between them.

The film begins with young Cowen speaking to camera, having just woken up with a hangover, and explaining how this is the first day of the video diary he is making for his BTEC media course. He stumbles around the house introducing us to his friends – eager-to-please Philippa (Georgia Bradley), nerdy Kipper (Sam Carter), and the slightly dodgy Adam (Tom Scarlett). Adam is the kind of blokey bloke who might be fun to have around until the point where he fails to spot the borderline between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Adam is on probation, for what reason we don’t know, and when Cowen wakes him from his slumber he rolls over to reveal a black eye.

As Cowen is filming his diary the town is rocked by an almighty explosion. Comical copper Terry (Nigel Morgan) arrives on the scene to explain that a factory on the outskirts has been struck by lightning. However, following this dramatic event the townfolk start to behave strangely, and in due course we have a full-on zombie onslaught – although they are not zombies in the strictest sense; rather, people are being possessed by alien creatures that resemble giant cockroaches.

Hungerford is exciting and funny in all the right places, but whereas Shaun of the Dead finished on a joke that tied up its bromance theme director Drew Casson leaves us with a rather more serious ending that provides the scope for a possible sequel. I just hope that Cowen passed his BTEC.

Rating: 9/10

USA 2013

Director: Josh Feldman

Writers: Josh Feldman & Britton Watkins

Runtime: 84 mins

Another low-budget entry at Sci-Fi-London 2014, Senn is an ambitious visually impressive movie with echoes of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Senn is the name of the main character (played by Zach Eulberg), a lowly production line worker on some godforsaken planet owned by an oppressive corporation. Senn regularly finds himself drifting away into bizarre waking dreams, to the point where his girlfriend Kana (Lauren Taylor)  is concerned that he will be “delisted” and assigned the lowliest possible job – sifting waste.

One day, as Senn’s waking dreams are threatening to get out of control, a vast alien spaceship arrives. Realising that this is an opportunity they must take, Senn and Kana are whisked away to the Polychronom, an ancient object that has somehow chosen Senn for a purpose unknown. Senn and Kana’s alien host is a called We (Wylie Herman), a being that appears in human form, like an eager-to-please butler, but who is actually the manifestation of some kind of dimensional energy. We and his fellow beings wish to understand the Polychronom, but in order to do so need to study Senn. However, Senn turns out not to be the first organism to be chosen by the Polychronom, and it seems that others have met unfortunate fates. What will the future hold for Senn?

Director Josh Feldman, whose background is in graphic design, brings a great visual sensibility to Senn, providing the kind of images you wouldn’t normally expect to see in a low budget production. There is also a good soundtrack by Cubosity Music.  The film has some nice flashes of wit, too, especially in the person of We, who is depicted brilliantly by Wylie Herman. Lauren Taylor gives a solid performance as Kana, as does Taylor Lambert playing Senn’s friend Resh. Unfortunately, I was less convinced by the performance of Zach Eulberg himself, whose acting seemed a bit awkward at times.

Despite the film’s various good points, it is rather let down by the writing. There is the nugget of a good idea in the basic story, but there is barely any dramatic tension, no conflict to keep the viewer’s attention. Everything just kind of rolls along until the end. No matter how good the visuals and music are, it is good writing that is at the heart of any movie. Partway through the film I realised that just as Senn’s thoughts were drifting away again, so were mine.

Rating: 5/10

The Perfect 46 (1)

USA 2014

Run time: 97 mins.

Written and directed by Brett Ryan Bonowicz, The Perfect 46 charts the rise and fall of Jesse Darden, the creator of a website that assesses the genetic compatibility of would-be parents, and later develops into a glorified dating website. Whit Hertford’s performance as Darden is one of the few things I can recommend about The Perfect 46. When Derden is on the up Hertford brings to the role a passionate intensity that is reminiscent of Steve Jobs and other wunderkind from the modern tech industry. Likewise, Hertford does a great job of conveying dark despair, with an element of obsessive-compulsive behaviour, once things start to go wrong for Darden. A turning point for Darden comes when his own product shows him to be sterile and his wife leaves him. Later, there are also company problems to be faced.

Unfortunately, The Perfect 46 violates a couple of key principles of moviemaking. Firstly, rather than letting action drive the plot and letting characters’ behaviours reveal their thoughts and attitudes, large swathes of the film are given to interminable explanations and ethical discussions. If I wanted to have issues relating to genetic matchmaking explained to me, I would read a book or watch a documentary; in film fiction, however, extended explanation is frankly a bore. The Perfect 46 presents us with company executives giving explanations to news programmes, with executives expounding in the boardroom, and at one point there is even a dinner party at which characters bat the issues back and forth at great length. Part of the plot involves two hooded men breaking into Darden’s country retreat, where one of them then engages in even more philosophical discussion with Darden.

The second problem is the lack of any sympathetic character. Darden himself is the central figure in the film. Unfortunately, we are never given any reason to care about him. You might think that being diagnosed as sterile would give the viewer some reason to feel for Darden, but ironically he mostly behaves like a prick.

In the final scene of the film, the reason for the intruders’ break-in is made clear. Frustratingly, the dialogue at this point becomes quite intense and convincing. In one sense you could say the film ended on a high point, but on the other hand this last segment also hinted at how much better the rest of the film could have been.

Shown at Sci-Fi-London Film Festival.

Rating: 3/10

Bunker 6 (1)

Bunker 6 is a brilliant Canadian low-budget (about £70,000) movie set in an alternate future. Shot in an actual nuclear fallout shelter in Nova Scotia, it tells the story of a small group of people living below ground after a nuclear strike in 1962 (the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the cold war threatened to go hot). Although billed as science fiction, in many ways it is closer to a gothic horror where the nuclear bunker substitutes for the country house.

The central character is Grace (Andrea Lee Norwood), who – in 1962 – is still a young girl living with her parents. Her father is a senior military figure, so when the bomb goes off they are all piling into the shelter. However, Grace’s parents get caught in the blast before they can get through the entrance door. Several years later, Grace survives below ground with two men and two women, led by ruthless young Alice (Molly Dunsworth). Communications with the outside world and other bunkers have been lost. However, noone can leave until the red light above the strong metal door turns green. Grace regularly monitors the colour of this light. She also has engineering responsibilities, ensuring the the power keeps running in their subterranean prison.

But the problems of engineering are nothing compared to the challenge of simply staying sane, and we learn that an earlier inhabitant went crazy, killing his wife and then himself. Then, when one of their number is found dead the struggle for survival becomes even more intense. Should they remain in the bunker or should they risk going back into the outside world? However, if the external environment is still deadly then opening the blast doors will kill all of them, and so Alice will not allow anybody to leave.

There are assured performances from all concerned, especially Andrea Lee Norwood. I thought the initial set-up – Grace as a child and the beginning of war – was a little rushed, but beyond this Greg Jackson’s script and direction builds the tension effectively. The use of a real nuclear bunker gives the whole thing a genuinely claustrophobic atmosphere.

Shown at the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival

Rating: 8/10