A character-driven alien invasion series starring Sam Neill, Shamier Anderson (Bruised, Awake), Golshifteh Farahani (Paterson, Night Eats the World), Firas Nassar (Fauda) and Shioli Kutsuna (Deadpool 2).
Lisa Joy (Westworld, Burn Notice, Pushing Daisies, part of the Nolan family) makes her feature directorial debut, with a cast that includes Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira, Daniel Wu, Brett Cullen, Natalie Martinez, Angela Sarafyan, Nico Parker, and Aussies Mojean Aria and Hugh Jackman, of course.
Sometimes, the more mundane a film is, the more surreal it becomes. The feature debut of documentarian Noah Hutton (Crude Independence, In Silico) takes place in an alternate present where Ray (Dean Imperial) attempts to cover his kid brother Jamie’s (Babe Howard) medical bills by taking the job of a cabler, running miles of cable through a forest to connect newfangled Quantum computers.
This is science fiction in the same way as Shane Carruth’s Primer or the more grounded episodes of Black Mirror, in that the technology is ultimately a means to look deeper into human consciousness than anything mechanical. Over the course of many conversations (some of which enter Black Christmas remake levels of on-the-nose), Hutton and his collection of capable actors dish out plenty of snipes about the Amazon/Uber/general gig economy business model, how that extends into other areas like healthcare, even a sly jab at multi-level marketing in how the ‘cabler’ profession is structured.
Snipes land more times than not, using a lot of the flying-over-heads technical detail not for world-building, but just to further how ridiculous this scenario is as something ‘normal’; where automation putting human jobs at risk only further highlights how dehumanising the work is to begin with. Cabler technology regularly tells employees to “challenge your status quo”, and Ray tries to argue that working hardest means reaping the most rewards, which ignores that the advantage is with those who set the pace for everyone else.
As polished as Lapsis is for such a low budget feature, there is a high possibility that it will rub some audiences the wrong way. Hutton treats narrative in a similar way that Yorgos Lanthimos does – the plot will only make sense if you pay attention to every small detail. The smaller the detail, the more important it will become later. There’s also the finale to account for, which makes Imperial’s Tony-Soprano-esque visage seem like deliberate foreshadowing, not to mention being far less of an exclamation point than the production frames it to be.
All the same, the kind of blue-collar sci-fi that Lapsis represents is in such short supply, and yet in such conversely high relevance to the modern era, that even its misgivings feel minor compared to how much it gets right. A power-to-the-worker manifesto, a plain-faced dystopian satire, and masterclass in using minimal budget for maximum effect.
Swedish filmmaker Jonathan Wilhelmsson's imaginative sci-fi short is more Her than Star Wars, exploring the simulation hypotheses in a cute and entertaining way. Local actor James Fraser's voice can be heard in the film, which was exec produced by Australian Holly Fraser, making this technically an Australian/Swedish co-pro.
A colonial spaceship of 30 young adults is destined for humanity’s new home; hormonal hijinks ensue, naturally, but it seems like writer/director Neil Burger picked up all the wrong tips from making Insurgent when it comes to YA storytelling.
While largely devoid of adult characters, save for Colin Farrell as the surrogate captain, the way the premise is set up is eerily reminiscent of Hunger Games-era adaptations, where teenagers are expected to save the world that the adults screwed up, albeit by moving to an entirely new world. It also falls into many of the same logic holes as its retroactive competition (when the YA adaptation trend has mainly shifted over to Wattpad), where the story at large doesn’t make much sense and, worse, feels like it was specifically engineered in-universe just so things would go wrong, and we’d even have a story to watch unfold. One adult taking care of (and lying to) 30-some teenagers; what could possibly go wrong?
Narratively, quite a bit, particularly in how Burger appears far too eager to give up plot developments before they’ve had a chance to take effect. The premise hints at chances for proper paranoia-driven thrills, with the passengers getting in touch with their primal instincts, while something might be waiting just outside the ship to attack them all; it proffers a similar ‘which is worse?’ dilemma as 10 Cloverfield Lane. Except the filmmakers seem determined to cut any intrigue off at the pass, focusing far more on the characters’ reactions to events than building up any mystery about those events.
Which isn’t the best idea when the characters are not that interesting. Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead gets to channel his inner Miles Teller as the douchey but entertaining bad guy, but everyone else? It’s as if the plot point about drugs meant to hinder emotions was written in after the fact to excuse how lifeless they all are. Muted emotion gets confused with complete lack of emotion in what amounts to a high school production of Lords Of The Flies, but with the detailed social structure and characterisation ripped out and replaced with a cluster of chuckleheads.
Voyagers has pretences of showing teenagers making choices about morality and tribalism, but only does so through artificial contrivance so prevalent that it’s practically part of the narrative itself. Every decision made on either side of the camera is all too obvious (and more than a little stupid if thought about for too long), and in between the limp acting and the obnoxious editing, all it amounts to is High Life for teens, made by someone who doesn’t think that highly of the average teenager, either on-screen or in the audience. It’s not as transparently nonsensical as Burger’s Insurgent, but it still shows him stuck on that same track to unsatisfying filmmaking.
With roles in upcoming Queensland shot features Black Site and Escape from Spiderhead, and a lead in trending short film Decommissioned, the Californian born and raised actor is reaping the rewards of hard work (and the successful COVID response in Australia).
Years in the making, Kosta Nikas's future warning strikes a chord... cashless cards anyone? Following his impressive indie feature debut Sacred Heart, this short film bodes well for what the Sydney filmmaker will come up with next.
Matt Vesely's (My Best Friend Is Stuck On The Ceiling) latest short - produced by Closer Productions - is a real lo-fi sci-fi charmer, featuring David Quirk (Rosehaven) as a human that makes a special connection with an 'immobile robotic service unit'. The film was selected for Tribeca Film Festival in 2020.