To be continued...
Monday, 8 February 2021
To be continued...
Sunday, 31 January 2021
Housebound under lockdown conditions, Haley and her friends decide to use their weekly Zoom call to carry out an online séance. Haley (Haley Bishop) has hired a medium, Seylan (Seylan Baxter), to lead them in what will no doubt be a fun, entertaining evening without anything sinister or dangerous happening. What could possibly go wrong?
Host (2020) is a found-footage horror movie that takes place in real time during a Zoom call. It’s not in any way related to The Host (2013), the movie based on Stephenie Meyer’s alien parasite rom com novel reviewed here, or to Korean newt-based horror The Host (2006), reviewed here. Host is set during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic - and it was also filmed during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, during a period of lockdown. Cast and crew could not leave their own homes so had to set up equipment and film themselves at home, with director Rob Savage guiding them remotely. The concept of the Zoom séance is a clever way to make a film under these tough conditions.
Other aspects of the film add to the improvised feel – the cast all use their own names, and family members appear in cameo or supporting roles. The script makes good use of all the Zoom cliches we’ve grown to
love tolerate over the past year – sound and vision glitches, people joining while mute, dodgy animated backgrounds, pyjamas and badly-timed Ocado deliveries. Acting is excellent, there’s a lot of humour, and there’s a good, gradual ramping up of tension leading to full-on catastrophe.
In a year where making any movie has been difficult, a crew have come together against the odds to release a new, low-budget, creepy and effective horror movie not unlike Paranormal Activity, reviewed here. In fact my only criticism of this movie is that it is a little too like Paranormal Activity, with one or two fright scenes almost borrowed wholesale. For this reason, although I really enjoyed Host, I am only giving it three stars.
Score: 3 out of 5 stars
All movies reviewed on the Sci-Fi Gene blog are given a score of 3 out of 5 stars.
Saturday, 16 January 2021
Thursday, 31 December 2020
The Sci-Fi Gene's final theremin video of the year. Strange as it seems, the 100th anniversary of the creation of the theremin has been overshadowed a little by other events in 2020. Anyway. Wishing everyone a good 2021.
Sunday, 29 November 2020
Sleep Dealer is an indie science fiction movie made in 2008 and set mostly in Mexico. I first came across it when reading an interview with the director, Alex Rivera. I recently watched it online and I think it's a beautiful film, deserving a second lease of life in this era of Zoom remote working.
Memo (Luis Fernando Pena) is a tech geek growing up in a farming village but dreaming of escape. When catastrophe strikes his family in the form of an aerial drone attack, Memo is forced to leave. He travels to Tijuana, along the way meeting city girl and aspiring writer Luz (Leonor Varela), gets mini-jack ports inserted painfully in his arms and back, and he's ready to get work in a "sleep dealer factory" where he can plug into the VR network and control a construction robot that could be working in another country.
This movie uses near-future sci-fi concepts to tell a very personal story about oppression, exploitation and the value of life. Remote working is not safe - thanks to dodgy electronics Memo runs the risk of blindness or injury every day he clocks in. His employers don't seem to be interested in health and safety and there's little he can do. But while labour is cheap, water is expensive - following the construction of a dam, the rivers around Memo's home village have dried up Jean de Florette style and the inhabitants pay to collect water from a commercially owned and heavily guarded reservoir.
The remote working theme is interesting as it becomes a metaphor for indirect oppression - while the privileged seem to be running the world, the means of oppression are remote controlled checkpoints with machine guns, and their operators are likely to be other low-paid workers. The drone pilot is revealed to be a young American with a Mexican immigrant background and perhaps it is this connection that leads him to seek information about Memo, leading in turn to a surprising finale with elements of Star Wars or Dambusters.
There's also a Scanner Darkly-esque theme about the many aspects of surveillance: Memo and his brother watch the drone attack unfold on a live TV programme, recognizing their own village as the drone approaches its target. Luz pays her bills by literally selling her memories online, including her memories of meeting Memo - a career choice that does not bode well for their relationship.
Sleep Dealer is accidentally prophetic. In addition to the themes of remote working and social media, it's the second indie film I've seen that predicts a US-Mexico border wall. The other is Gareth Edwards debut Monsters. In this case the wall has prevented migrants coming to work in the US, and as a result the low-paid migrant workforce has become an equally low paid remote working workforce, migrating to work digitally all over the world while remaining plugged in to their factories.
As other reviewers at the time of release noted, a weaker aspect of this movie is the CGI for the aerial drones and the construction robots. While it's good enough to tell the story it's not quite convincing as real. In contrast, the practical special effects are excellent. I squirmed in empathic pain when Memo had his nodes inserted - that's one memory I won't be downloading. And the acting from all the lead characters is superb, with total commitment to role.
Overall this is a likeable and thoughtful indie sci-fi and well worth the three stars out of five I'm giving it.