Saturday 6 July 2013

Shift (2012)

Directors: Kasim Aslam and Joshua M Lambeth
Stars: Kasim Aslam, Matthew Dearing and Suzanne Ziad
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Kasim Aslam, who wrote, co-directed and starred in this film, is one of the most memorable people at the Phoenix Film Festival. He has the perfect amount of charisma to turn those boring public service announcements that ask everyone to turn off their cellphones into something of an event. He adds a little something to his routine every year and, before long, people might show up to see him and then leave before the beginning of the films that he's introducing. That effervescent charisma is turned down notably for his role here as Arthur, who's coming to terms with the loss of his wife, an apparent suicide who hanged herself in her shoe closet after leaving him a note. He's mourning, of course, but he's also feeling guilty and he's very believably lost. This is one of those roles that requires the actor to exude every emotion in the book out of every pore all at once, the sort of difficult task most actors have trouble with but Nicolas Cage does routinely while buying groceries.

He does a good job here, but Matthew Dearing is better still as Darren. He's the heart and soul of this film, the hub around which it revolves and the pivot upon which it flips. There are twin halves to the story and he's in both of them. One tasks him with counselling Arthur, with whom he grew up. 'He's been my best friend since before I had a memory,' he explains to Arthur's depressed wife Andrea in the other, during which he counsels her too, before her death. Given that Darren is able to prescribe medication, he clearly isn't just a friend called upon in times of need, he's also a professional doctor. He's very focused and he doesn't blink much, as if he's absorbed by the task at hand and won't be distracted from it in any way. He seems like the sort of dedicated therapist we might want, if we want that sort of thing but, as a player in both halves of the story, he clearly has a further, darker role to play in proceedings that requires further viewings to fully appreciate.
There's a lot going on here and surely much of it is deliberate, if not all. The two halves of the film do not meet at any point, except through Darren, who thus becomes the middle ground between them. We can't help but wonder what the relationship between Arthur and Andrea was like, given that we're never given a scene containing both of them. There's a lot of suggestion here that it wasn't good, but we don't really know for sure. Our picture of that relationship is conjured up by each side speaking to the subject without the other being there and the script and editing play with that in a sort of parallel conversation that's reminiscent of comic books where the speech bubbles play out a consistent story but the images change back and forth between characters to highlight their shared experience. This film has a lot of that, but it also highlights disconnects. Arthur's perception of Andrea is skewed to be what she wants it to be. By the end, we wonder if he ever knew her at all.

There's a lot to think about once this film is over, which is one reason why it played so well as the last film in the Arizona Shorts selection at this year's Phoenix Film Festival. The set began weakly, but built well. I'd happily recommend Mission Control, Screaming in Silence and Pensil to anyone, though they share almost nothing in common except being interesting local films. The standouts for me were this and The Violation, each of which is carefully crafted, satisfies within its running time and still prompts much thought afterwards. I don't know who deserves the most praise. Clearly Aslam owns the film as much as anyone, as its writer and co-star, but he co-directed with Joshua M Lambeth, who also shot and edited the film, shining in all those roles. Dearing's superb work on screen matches the often ambient but gently leading score by Christopher Nastri. My lesson is that I haven't seen enough work by any of these people and I should remedy that fact soon. That and to figure out the title of this one.

Shift can be viewed for free on Vimeo and YouTube.

Pensil (2012)

Directors: Andrew & Elise Gooi
Stars: Andrew Gooi and Elise Gooi
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Watching Pensil, I couldn't help but imagine this as being a school essay assignment. I got a heck of a lot of those, not just as regular homework for classes, but also because I became a master at getting into mild trouble. I never got into the sort of trouble that prompted a trip to the headmaster's office, but I was always answering the teachers back with just the right level of sarcasm to prompt another essay. The thing was that I enjoyed and fed it. I enjoyed the creative challenge of attempting to write about something I knew nothing about, often an abstract or generic concept, especially as I spiced it up myself with grammatical tricks like avoiding the letter E or composing the entire essay as one long but grammatically correct sentence. Then I read up on this three minute film and realised that I was a lot closer than I imagined. Apparently, this is a standard school essay assignment in Malaysia, called Aku Sebatang Pensil, a shared cultural memory that countless Malaysians have lived through.

According to the film's synopsis at IMDb, the usual translation of 'Aku sebatang pensil' is simply 'I am a pencil'. However, Andrew Gooi, the film's writer and director, changes that subtly but importantly as he starts to narrate the film. He drops a single word and, in doing so, personifies and claims the story for the title character. 'I am Pencil,' he says, 'a longtime companion.' Pencil has two friends, Tracy and Diary, making him a critical third of a trio who have shared much over years, and he tells a short story that involves this trio at a particularly key point in their lives. Gooi does very well with the narration, providing character without ever stealing the show from Pencil. Some of this monologue requires a particular tone to work; lines like, 'Words, thoughts and emotions conveyed through me, kept safe by Diary,' so easily lost into the realms of either cuteness or philosophy. Gooi stays in the middle, serious but light hearted, and his film follows that path too, avoiding the pitfalls and remaining memorable.
This may well be the most fun I've ever had with a blurry film. Naturally, the point (pun not intended) of the piece is the pencil, so we see him clearly throughout, which means that everything else going on unfolds in various shades of blur. This is appropriate, because the focus of the film, literally, is not on what it would usually be. The story that Pencil tells is a pretty basic one, as Tracy dances through life changing events, but it's told utterly from his perspective and we don't need to hear her laugh or watch her smile to understand it. As with almost all such school essays, there's not a lot of substance here but, as an exercise in creative filmmaking, it's an interesting piece. It's touching, poignant and quirky, told through a simple narration and with a soft but appealing score, Emmett Cooke's Healing Aura. It's constructed simply but professionally, with a neat twist, which I wasn't expecting in a three minute piece, and just the right amount of thought.

It's no surprise to find that Gooi Films doesn't usually work in fiction, concentrating more on the sort of film that even a review site like mine doesn't review, even with a focus that has become what other review sites don't review. According to their Facebook page, their specialty is in 'developing creative video content for businesses and organisations,' which means commercials, promos and other videos that we see so often but rarely think about from a cinematic standpoint. Their tagline is, 'Well crafted videos. Your best interest in mind.' Pensil could easily be read as delivering on that promise to a more surprising customer: the pencil at the heart of its story. They have made other dramatic shorts though: Bittersweet, Brother and Unchained an obviously related set of short, often shaky, voyeuristic looks at tough, emotional moments, like suicide, sacrifice, abuse, prostitution and death. In so many ways, this film could be seen as their lighter side, and in that sense, the best entry point to Gooi Films.

Pensil can be viewed for free on YouTube.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Say What You Want (2012)

Directors: Stephanie Lucas & Josh Kasselman
Stars: Anthony Nigro and Colin Wyatt
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Here's another one that confused me, but not in the way that Lake Effect did. I don't understand what Lake Effect was trying to tell me and the film lost what impact it could have had because of that. Here, I understand everything going on because it's a relatively clearcut documentary short, outlining the struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder that a musician called Anthony Nigro has gone through and continues to go through. I even like the subject and the people who talk to us about it, most obviously Nigro himself but also his friend and bandmate, Colin Wyatt, now the director of video production at EMI. What I'm confused about is why I should care and why others apparently do. I don't mean any offence to Nigro, but I have no idea who he is or why he warrants his own documentary short. Sure, he has OCD and he's figured out to a degree how to deal with it, but then so do I and so have I. Where's my documentary short? No, I don't warrant one either.

Yet of the ten short films that were selected for the Arizona Shorts set at the Phoenix Film Festival, this is the one that won. While I have nothing particularly against this film, beyond my question of why it even exists, I have to be brutal here and say that I would have ranked it last of the lot. The clear standouts for me were The Violation and Shift, both complex pieces that achieved on quite a few different levels all at once. Screaming in Silence is another film with serious depth that cannot be ignored, Mission Control continues to get better every time I see it and Pensil was a cute little thing too. But this won over them all and I have precisely no idea why. Now, I don't want to give the impression that it's a bad movie, as it isn't. The editing is solid enough to hide how little there really is in the way of footage until we think about it. The gimmicks are kept to a minimum but work well: the use of split screen, animation and photo vs video at points are all appropriate.
But what's it actually trying to tell us? Is it really about Anthony Nigro? He progresses musically from a bunch of kids who didn't really play, through a band who did at least write real songs to a serious outfit who moved from Tucson to Los Angeles in an attempt to find a larger audience than was possible at home. If so, it doesn't tell us much. We only hear brief clips of unidentified songs and are only given the name to one of his bands. Outside of music, we meet his fiancée, Yanira, but the best moment with her is during the end credits when Nigro suddenly realises how short she is. Or is it about what we hear about most, OCD? Here there's some substance, because it's easily applicable to others. OCD isn't rare but most people don't suffer from it to the degree that Nigro does. My case is mild enough to not be a problem but strong enough that I can use it to my advantage. As we see, Nigro's is tellingly and scarily dangerous.

The film's postcard suggests that it's 'a short documentary about Anthony Nigro's obsessions'. So it's not about Nigro and it's not about OCD, it's really about how the two connect and that's not an easy thing to grab us. If directors Stephanie Lucas and Josh Kasselman had chosen either one over the other, the film would have felt like it had a more consistent direction. At least it's engaging. I enjoyed getting to know Anthony Nigro and I did find the cautionary tale of his OCD insightful, but I was kept bouncing from one to the other and back again, so never managed to focus on either. By the end, which isn't very far from the start, I felt a little like I'd been caught in one of those Ambien sourced zombie states that Nigro found himself in when he was addicted to sleeping pills. That's surely not the point, but it does make it easy to move onto the next short in the set without any thoughts lingering on to interfere with it. That's not a good property for a short film to have.

Interceptor (2012)

Director: Angel Ruiz
Stars: Raj Suri, Heather Noland, Angel Ruiz and Michelle Palermo
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
I have no idea how prolific Angel Ruiz is because he has a habit of making capable films that don't end up on IMDb for some reason, this one included. What I do know is that he's been around for a while and he knows what he's doing. This short sci-fi film from 2012 is capable from moment one, a set of excellent title credits followed by a suicide bomber blowing himself up in an office cube at an investment company, killing fifty people. That's not your usual target and so it's not your usual investigative team who do something about it. As Devin Poe, Ruiz is an interceptor for the Phoenix Division of a hush hush outfit called Counter Event Taskforce. They're like the NSA with a positive spin and some tech that flouts the fourth dimension: they monitor emergency events to find little things that will go on to trigger big things. We have no idea how they do this, but they have a lot of widescreen monitors cycling fancy graphics, which in cinematic terms means they rock.

Here's the sort of thing they figure out: the suicide bomber is Jacob Jordan and he did it because his wife Ashley worked for that company; after she was stabbed to death in their parking lot, they refused responsibility because she wasn't parked in her designated spot. Having Poe save Ashley's life in the parking lot would change the fabric of time, remove her husband's motivation and save fifty lives. One isn't worth it, apparently, but fifty are; it's all about the numbers. Now, I know that you're all wondering how they can do this, because surely they're going to need a time machine, right? Well, there's a neat idea in play here that helps to explain why they're forced down certain paths rather than others: they can't send Poe back in time, but they can send memories back to the Poe who's already there, so he can act on them. Saving Ashley's life would thus be a lot less difficult to explain than shooting Jacob or making the authorities aware of what he's doing.
I like the concept, especially as it gets past many of the usual time travel problems. Memories are just data, right? I also like the brutal irony that Poe gets to change the past for a living, saving the lives of many, while still suffering the loss of a wife and child of his own who he can't go back and save. This tech has limitations, one of which is that memories can only be sent back a year. It also raises tough questions that a short film has no time to address. I don't just mean the strange idea that the success of a mission can be confirmed by simply looking at one newspaper's front page, or the stranger idea that it can be confirmed at all. Doesn't the future from which the mission was launched cease to be once it's successful? I mean that, while Jacob doesn't know it, his decision to blow up fifty people in an act of mass murder was the best one possible, as he saves his wife's life and removes his crime from existence. I want to see the movie in which he planned that!

What this film does address is how easy it would be to become cynical in these circumstances. As CET can't save everyone and is thus forced to rank the lives of some over the lives of others, the job becomes a set of value decisions that the guy doing the work doesn't take. Poe can't help but question that, given that he can't save his family, so he's surely going to be dwelling more on the lives he doesn't save than those he does. Don't tell me that in this world, he hasn't already saved some self destructive celebrity half a dozen times over because she just happens to be the niece of his boss's boss's boss. 'For the greater good,' as his boss tells him when another conflict shows up to drive the plot forward. There are so many options here that I could name a couple of dozen ways to work around the scenario that arises, so I don't buy where Ruiz takes this in the end, but I am happy that he raised the cynical storyline to begin with.

Beyond the convolutions of plot that frankly can't be avoided entirely when dabbling in the realm of time travel, however it's justified, this is a capably made film. It's clearly low budget, or the CET would have more than one office and a lot more than four people in it. The way it's lit also means that we see everything we need to but carefully also avoid seeing everything we don't need to. In a similar way, the quality of the production design throughout does everything it has to but never really ventures into the realm of what it should. That extends to the acting too: nobody does poor work, but nobody really shines, except perhaps Raj Suri, who deserved more of a substantial part. What stands out above the rest are the pace and the effects. The latter are not wildly imaginative but they look great and they're executed flawlessly, while the former happily refuses to rush on in and wrap everything up in five minutes. Unfortunately the word of the day is just 'capable'.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Lake Effect (2012)

Director: Michael Chadwick
Stars: Joel David Maurice, Kate Kugler and Madison Vigiletti
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
This one had me puzzled throughout and unfortunately a second viewing really didn't help. Clearly the title of the film carries meaning, but I'm still lost as to what it really is and it left me with a few different interpretations that are so wildly different that I'm sure I'm way off. All I'm sure of is that the person who falls under the lake's effect is Alex, who's driving to it as the film begins. We aren't given a lot to go on, as neither he nor the young lady accompanying him seem willing to verbalise their feelings quite yet, though they clearly share some. One of my key problems is that we aren't told who this lady is. The credits tell us that she's Julia and she's clearly a good deal younger than Alex, but all we know from this film is that she isn't his daughter who died from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning at the very lake they're about to take a boat out onto. That's Anna, who gets as much screen time as Julia, as a vision, but we never learn the connection between them.

The opening scenes are interesting because they refuse to tell us much of anything. This couple drive to the lake, sharing a moment but never speaking. With no dialogue or music to focus on, there's just ambient background noise and visuals, meaning that those visuals had better unfold clearly. which they don't. Two minutes in, which is a full fifth of the running time, we find Alex sprinkling ashes into the water as if this is the final moment of closure. However it's apparently not his first visit to the lake; he takes the boat out every week, morbidly imagining his daughter sunbathing as she did on the day that she died. 'If I put my head in the water,' he tells Julia, 'it's like I'm touching her face.' Here's where we start to cross 'mum' off the potential list of roles for Julia, as she seems to not know the details. She could be another daughter, but she seems too detached, so presumably she's Alex's partner, albeit one much younger than he is.
I'd even wonder if I'm focusing unduly on Anna, because this is obviously Alex's film, but Michael Chadwick, who wrote and directed, keeps bringing it back to her. She can't even nap on the boat without Anna's ghost showing up and bringing her back into proceedings, even while asleep. My guess is that the film is supposed to explore the impact of the accidental death of a child, one of the most brutal things that can happen to anyone, and certainly it's hit Alex very hard indeed. If so, I wonder why Julia is even in the picture, because while Kate Kugler does nothing wrong in the part, she only serves to distract from what's going on with Alex. And what is going on with Alex? Initially I presumed that he was just a tormented father dealing with his loss, but as time moved on, I started to wonder if there's more than just the expected guilt coming into play. Surely every man in this situation wonders about what they could have done, even if there was nothing.

But here, I wondered what he actually did and then I wondered if I was supposed to wonder. Is he feeling guilty because he abused his daughter? Maybe that's why Julia is clearly so much younger than Alex, who looks good but whose facial hair is greying a heck of a lot more than mine. Are we supposed to be creeped out, not by the fact that Anna gets as much screen time as anyone else and she spends the entire film dead, but by the fact that Alex appears to be close to her in ways that are inappropriate as much as those that aren't? This film isn't pretentious art house fodder, but there are things happening here in ways that seem very deliberate while I can't find the right wavelength. I get that sometimes with Ingmar Bergman pictures, like The Silence, so it may be Michael Chadwick or it may be me, but this could be a great film or it could be an awful one and I'm really not sure which. Maybe a light bulb will switch on above my head one day.

Monday 1 July 2013

Odokuro (2011)

Director: Aurelio Voltaire
Star: Gary Numan
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Professional Cuban weirdo and cultural superhero Aurelio Voltaire may be best known today for dark and quirky songs that liven up episodes of the children's TV show, The Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy, but he started out in stop motion animation, inspired by the classic films of Ray Harryhausen, a first love that he's never forgotten. He began as a kid, using a Super 8 camera he bought at the age of ten, then at seventeen he ran away to New York and worked his way up the ladder animating anything he could, usually commercials and station idents. He's also taught the subject for two decades at New York's School of Visual Arts, where this film was shot, or anywhere anyone might pay attention, like a panel I saw at Phoenix's horror film festival, Fear Fest, in 2010. Over the last decade, he's been creating a series of stop motion animations called Chimerascope, each merging a suitably Voltaire vignette with a cryptic title and a narration by a musician.

How cryptic do you want to get? The short he played at Fear Fest was DemiUrge Emesis, with a narration by Danny Elfman of Oingo Boingo and now, of course, movie soundtracks galore. Before that was X-Mess Detritus, narrated by Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance and Transrexia, with narration by Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs. Perhaps the first in the series or perhaps more of an influence on it, there's also Rakthavira, going all the way back to 1994, with Debbie Harry of Blondie providing the narration. Those early shorts were only a minute long, but this one hits the seven minute mark. The title is a real word, sourced from Japanese mythology where it means a starving skeleton. These particular skeletons are fifteen times taller than regular people, because they're amalgamations, constructed from the bones gathered from regular sized folk who died of starvation, and they like nothing more than biting off our heads, presumably to get bigger.
Voltaire naturally gifts us with a skeleton here, partly because of the title and partly because what Ray Harryhausen fan could pass up using a skeleton in his stop motion animated short? This one's a Sumatran rat monkey freed from a bell jar by a typewriter. We're conditioned to see him as the villain of the piece but he's really a beleaguered hero, tormented by a cavalcade of curiosities and obsolete technology. It's a gorgeous collection: old fashioned radios and cameras, typewriters and adding machines, LPs and cassette tapes, one of which I noticed was Replicas by Gary Numan and the Tubeway Army, not uncoincidentally the beginning of his machine era. It looks like the display window of my sort of antique shop, right down to the mounted jackalope heads. Because this is a Voltaire short, these objects aren't there merely to make me drool, they're also haunted, starting with a cursed tape deck that springs to life and speaks in the voice of Gary Numan.

It muses enticingly on the philosophical origins of life, what it actually means and how it evolves, but Numan's soft voice and the sheer range of his thought mean that it's difficult not to let this narration wash over us, playing out as just another instrument in a lively score by Gregory Hinde. However, it refuses to be relegated to the background, because there's such a strong tie between the audio and the video, albeit Voltaire's impish stop motion work interpreting literally what the narration clearly intends to be metaphorical. That escalates until Numan mentions the wind being knocked out of our sails and Voltaire hits us with the twist. Even more than DemiUrge Emesis, this is a short film that's worth watching over and over again, just to see which different moment leaps out at us each time. First time it'll be the typewriter letter eyes, then perhaps the steampunk look to the skeleton and... well, you go find out for yourself. You can thank me later.

Odokuro is available to watch for free at YouTube.

Iris (2012)

Director: Justin S Lee
Stars: Claudia Graf and Carl Ingemarsson
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
This is the sort of story that I expect to be made a lot over the next few years. Like Restitution, its story is set within those points where people and tech meet, but it doesn't have the philosophical depth of that film. Instead it becomes a cautionary tale, albeit a very timely one in these modern times when social media is king. Read any tech site on a regular basis and you'll see the cycles of discussion, where proponents of a particular solution vie against its opponents again and again as each incremental change is released. One of those discussions has to do with trust: how to define something so that it can be absolutely trusted and, once there, how it can be hacked. What comes out of those discussions is that there are very few absolutes, which is what this short film outlines. It tells a similar story to the Israeli film, Sight, which screened at Jerome this year, but rather than encompassing an entire experience it's more focused onto one particular app.

This app aims to confirm an identity. Touch someone's ring and it'll provide you with certain data that you care about. Now, that doesn't sound particularly sexy, but technological solutions can be applied in different ways, which can be. While this could easily be used to provide authentication, from accessing your work office to accessing your bank account, here it's used for dating and the opening scene, accompanied by the elegant accompaniment of strings, could easily be used as a commercial. A lady and gentlemen meet in a bar, share a mutual physical attraction and so touch rings to ensure that they're not picking up someone, you know, unsuitable. Yes, it's inappropriate to reduce someone to a few key data, but isn't that's what people do in bars when searching for a one night stand anyway? Is there any difference between instantly defining someone by the size of their breasts and doing it by their education history or current employment?
This opening scene introduces Iris Johnson, with degrees from both Harvard and Stanford and who serves as an executive director at Goldman Sachs, to William Preston, whose degrees were earned at Princeton and Yale and who is a managing partner at his family's law group. Satisfied with their good fortune in finding each other, they walk out hand in hand. And without either of them saying a single word. Such is the magic of technology! What could possibly go wrong? Well, three weeks later when the sound kicks in for us and reality kicks in for the characters, we discover that in no uncertain fashion. None of this is particularly surprising, but it's handled well and it combines the latest in technological wizardry with the oldest payment method in the book. It's not a long short, running only six minutes, with the first couple taken up by that silent commercial meeting, but it covers exactly what it needs to cover and leaves us with a neat little twist to keep us thinking.

Justin S Lee, who wrote and directed, is a student at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, at which this was a student project. To aid the learning experience, the task at hand wasn't to make your own film, but to rotate through three different projects with a different role in each. I like that concept, because it provides the perspective not only of different aspects of the filmmaking process but by ensuring that you work on other people's pictures just as they work on yours. As with any student, the real test is when you take all this to the next level, after graduation. It looks like Lee is starting to do that, having interned on Atlas Shrugged: Part I, but I hope he continues to make shorts outside of that career path. I'd have to go with Sight over this one, because it covers more ground and explores more depth, but this is strong on its own merits and it held its own against tough competition at The International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival.

Restitution (2013)

Director: Justin O'Neal Miller
Stars: Jason MacDonald, Luke Donaldson, Catherine Dyer and Jasmine Burke
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Restitution was another sci-fi short that knocked my socks off at this year's International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival. There's a lot going on in this one, some of it very subtle, and I don't know if many of the audience members really caught the particularly brutal key twist, which stayed with me for a long while after I'd left the theatre. At heart, it explores the point at which humanity and technology meet, using two very different examples. First up, Preston Sanders finds out the hard way that his wife, struggling with the loss of one of her two sons, had the survivor cloned without even raising the idea to him first. That's as emotional as the other is prosaic, but it's sprung on us as ruthlessly as having twins in the house again is sprung on him. It's the user interface he uses in his work as an architect, perhaps the best, most seamless, imagining of such I've seen in film. It's just a pen and a sheet of paper, but they're digital and manipulated by an abacus on his desk.

It's the seamless nature of both of these that stands out for me. Sanders plays with his son for a little while without ever realising that it wasn't his son at all. Instead of Timmy, it was his cloned twin, Tommy. Given that they call each other 'poppa' and 'son', there's surely comment here on Preston's lack of emotional connection to his family, especially as Susan, his wife, is quite clearly devastated, but it's also a commentary on this seamless use of technology. Susan simply went to a doctor's office one day, did the necessary and came home with a new son, that her husband is unable to distinguish from the real one. That's precisely the same trick that writer/director Justin O'Neal Miller plays on us with the 'computer' in Preston's office. We see him doodling away at the outset, but only later in the film do we even realise that he's using a computer. Lost in thought, his pen leaks all over the paper, but he makes an effortless gesture and the ink blot disappears.

The impact here is substantial. Because I work in IT for a living, I've spent years hating what gets thrown on screen under that banner. Often it's pure ignorance on the part of a filmmaker, but still more often it's a deliberate misrepresentation of technological reality to shortcut a story. This film, hand firmly on heart, is the first time I've ever seen future technology on screen and not only not hated it, but been actively stunned in a good way by what I saw. This future version of a digitiser tablet used for computer aided design is never once even commented on, because it's routine in this man's life. To apply an overused tech phrase in its truest context, it just works. It's invisible, background, not worthy of mention. The technology takes a back seat, so that the human beings in the equation can do what they do best, to create. And with that established, Miller applies the precise same thing to another technology: human cloning.
Cloning in films tends to be seen as science gone mad, the one step too far category that started with Frankenstein and never really went away, merely updated itself to next year's breakthrough instead. If I counted right, the word 'clone' is only mentioned once in this script, though the whole thing is about cloning and the very title of the film is a euphemism for one step in that process, a returns policy and undo button all in one. Just like the invisible computer Sanders uses, we never see the technology in play, just its interface, which in this instance is a doctor's office. 'I was just expecting it to be more difficult,' Sanders says but, as illustrated so well with his computer, that's the entire point of technology. It just works. The unasked question to the audience, especially as we know something that Sanders doesn't at this point, is whether that's always a good thing. Do we really want some things to be so easy that they can be done without thought?

Miller surely crafted this film as impeccably as someone crafted the spiral staircase in Sanders's office out of wood. He's building up a solid amount of experience as a set designer, on TV shows like The Walking Dead. That occupation doesn't surprise me in the slightest, as the opening of the film showcases the set design over everything else and it was the interface design that blew me away first. Perhaps it's the incessant attention to detail in that function that helped him to make this film so seamless as a writer, producer and director. He also did the digital effects. The acting is consistently solid, whether it's the experienced adults or young Luke Donaldson playing twins, but nobody stands out above anyone else here, whether they're in front of the camera or behind it. Everyone plays their part in support of ideas that wait for us to notice them. How many clones did you see in this film? This is impeccable stuff, worthy of many return visits.