Posts Tagged ‘Sci-Fi-London’

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

Desolate is a 77 minute film made on a shoestring budget by director Rob Grant, using a single DSLR camera and some borrowed sound equipment. It is also surprisingly good, though needless to say you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for it to appear at your nearest multiplex. I saw this film at the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival, and I daresay the festival circuit may well be your best chance to catch up with it if you are a sci-fi fan.

The story concerns Chad (Jez Bonham), who has recently broken up with his girlfriend Annie (Teagan Vincze). Consequently, he has hit the bottle, believing that Annie is having an affair with his best friend, Devon (Justin Sproule). Whilst Chad and Devon are arguing about this up in the hills, there is a huge explosion in the town below. Chad returns to his apartment where the rolling news coverage reveals that the devastation may have been a UFO crashing, and that witnesses have reported seeing “creatures”. Creatures there turn out to be, and they don’t want to make friends.

Given the lack of budget, director Grant cleverly relies on the viewer’s own imagination to create an atmosphere of fear.  It’s a horror movie technique as old as the hills to use the sight of a door to make us afraid of what might be on the other side, but it works with great effect here. I was genuinely gripped throughout. Of course, given the limitations that Grant is working within, there are lots of shaky camera shots deployed, with people and objects going in and out of focus. Although these techniques are fairly obvious to the viewer, Grant at least does not attempt to pad the film out, and I thought the film was just about the right length. It kept my attention until the rather Shakespearean ending.

Perhaps the weakest aspect was that the central character of Chad was not especially likeable. He starts out as rather self-pitying and selfish, and I can’t say that he seemed much different at the end. On the other hand, he isn’t a bad character, so I was still able to root for him against the monsters – I don’t know if all viewers would be as tolerant as me in this regard!

Rating: 6/10

Lost Time (1)

Kicking off this year’s Sci-Fi-London Film Festival, Lost Time is described in the programme notes thus: “A psychological sci-fi thriller with horror overtones, it doesn’t always go where you expect it to”. This is a very accurate description, but unfortunately the places the story goes are sometimes places it probably shouldn’t have.

The story concerns a cancer patient, Valerie (Rochelle Vallese), who has just been told that her condition is terminal. On the way home with her sister Melissa (Jenni Blong) a bizarre and traumatic event occurs in which the latter mysteriously disappears. Has she been abducted by aliens? Four months later Valerie’s cancer has vanished, but she is still risking her health trudging the mean streets of the city trying to find Melissa. Lurking in the background is cop boyfriend Carter (Luke Goss), who is somewhat frustrated that Valerie feels unable to resume normal relations until her quest has achieved its goal. Valerie seeks out author Dr Xavier Reed (Robert Davi), who insists that the answers lie within her and that he can help her find them. However, his treatment turns out to be distinctly unconventional.

The basic story is rather good and there are one or two nice twists, but there are also some slightly risible ones and the dialogue at times is distinctly creaky. There were a few places where laughter was unintentionally elicited from the audience around me. There is also some rather obvious padding, with an overuse of dialogue-free scenes where the images are set to music, but which do not move the story along.

I assume that Lost Time is a low-budget labour of love, as actors Vallese, Goss, and Davi appear variously among the credits for writing, production, and music supervision. Director Christian Sesma also has credits for writing and production. However, it is in the writing and direction that weaknesses are most apparent. On the positive side, Rochelle Vallese really rises above the material to give an excellent performance as Valerie. She is definitely the star of the show, even more so than Robert Davi, who has appeared in major movies such as Die Hard and License to Kill. Davi is adequate enough here, but much of his oddness relies on the theatricality of wearing a coat, hat, and scarf indoors. Former Bros singer Luke Goss certainly looks the part of a tough cop, being all stubbly and shaven-headed, and kicking bad guys’ asses in his first scene. However, he fails to shine in his role, which is unsurprising as most of his lines seem to consist of uninspiring phrases such as “Come on, baby” and “Stick with me, baby”.

Despite a few good moments, by the end of the film I felt that the title pretty much summed up my experience.

Rating: 5/10