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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Island (2010)

Director: Nathan Fisher
Stars: Nathan Fisher and Charlotte Wyatt
This film was an official selection at the 7th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2011. Here's an index to my reviews of 2011 films.
I got a real kick out of The Island, a short science fiction film that could easily be seen as the flipside of Earthship, given its deliciously dark tone. Like Earthship, it's set in a post-apocalyptic world but refuses to exercise a budget to show us whatever mutants, zombies or triffids thrive in the ashes of civilisation, instead situating us firmly inside a self-sufficient home used to wait out the fall of mankind and hinting at the situation out there with sound and hearsay. Unlike Earthship, however, there's only one survivor here and he goes by Tom. He seems a decent enough chap, very calm and collected, but a little off, as we discover when someone arrives at his door, pleading for help, and his response is to put on a noisy album and settle down with a book. The six inches of steel in his bank vault of a door and the two feet of reinforced concrete it's set in allow him to ignore the world as much as he likes. The title of the film clearly refers to his bunker, an island of peace in a world of chaos.

Tom is played by Nathan Fisher, which explains how comfortable he is in the setting, because Fisher is the driving force behind the film, as its writer, producer, director and star. There are only three actors on screen throughout the entire film and he's the one we see the most of, which is plenty in a 25 minute short entirely set in a one room bunker. Apparently unwilling to deal with the world outside, he's able to sit back in his chair and ignore it because he has everything he needs around him. He has food stacked up against a wall in labelled boxes and a stove to cook it on. He has oodles of bottled water. He rolls his own cigarettes. He has a chair, a bed and a toilet. He generates electricity by pedalling a bicycle that's hooked up to batteries. He has books, records and puzzles to keep him busy and he's teaching himself how to play chess. He only goes outside to dump the trash and even then he has concussion grenades, a gun and a pair of goggles to deal with the light. In short, he has everything he might need.
Well, not quite. What he doesn't have is company, a lady friend to pass his abundant time with. He has to make do with the scantily clad models on his album covers, at least until we reach the seven minute mark and one comes knocking on his door who's young, pretty and very scared. This time he opens the door and the real story begins. For a while, we're back in Earthship territory, with this new female guest stunned at the comparative luxury he enjoys. Katie hasn't eaten in days, but Tom has enough water to wash in, so she's as shocked and amazed as Isis was in Earthship, not to mention just as wary about the possibility that her dream has come true. However, here's where Nathan Fisher's picture diverges from David Wilson's. While this is a science fiction story, Fisher's obvious passion is with the cosmic horror of H P Lovecraft; his first picture was a direct adaptation of Beyond the Walls of Sleep, but he followed up with this, an original story that is merely influenced by the master.

As a purely science fiction film this was promising, but it's the shift to the dark side that makes it such an enjoyable piece. It's only peripherally Lovecraftian. Katie's description of the apocalypse's aftermath is that, 'they're starving and turning on each other and worshipping those things'; what sort of things is hinted at in the fantastic graffiti octopus plastooned across the door of the bunker. While the elder gods might be raging outside in a mythos world, we're voted onto the island with Tom and Katie to witness a study of sedate madness, a theme Lovecraft played with often. Secure in his fortress of solitude, amidst the terrors of his dying race, what must Tom do to stay sane? How will Katie adapt to his claustrophobic existence and her apparent salvation? What other records are racked amongst Tom's admirably varied collection? These are the questions that The Island attempts to answer and to find out what Fisher has in mind for Tom, Katie and us, you'll need to watch the film yourself.
I liked it from the opening scene, where the camera zooms in slowly towards the octopus on Tom's vault door and a man scuttles around before being scared away by gunshots. It's deceptively slow, with little apparently happening but Fisher builds his character well, so we sympathise with Tom's situation and even envy it, given the context, but nonetheless realise that we don't know everything. The underlying concept and Fisher's performance are the strong points but there are weaker ones too. Charlotte Wyatt does a fair job as Katie but it's no shock to find that this was her screen debut. She's also too clean and her leggings are too neatly ripped, more like a fashion statement than battle damage. We get that Tom has a well stocked bunker, but he'll need regular deliveries of toilet paper and concussion grenades to survive more than a week at his rate of use. Back in 2010, Fisher planned to turn this into a feature; I'd be happy to see that. The short has depths and different readings. I'd love to see how it might expand.

The Island can be viewed for free at DailyMotion, Vimeo or YouTube.

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