From independent writer and director Keir Burrows comes a smart, stylish, and ultimately riveting techno-thriller unlike anything else out there today.
“Want to see a magic trick? I can make matter disappear.” The confidence with which those words are spoken by Ana Carter, the protagonist of Anti Matter, is unparalleled. But Ana is more than just saying that as an opener for a magic trick in jest. The PhD student extraordinaire based at Oxford University has actually discovered a way to make it happen. But her cheery, often gung-ho nature doesn’t last very long. Once Ana discovers a way to phase matter straight from one location to another, it isn’t long before she takes the next, daring step – experimentation on herself. She initially seems unharmed, but eventually realises that she is no longer able to create new memories or retain information about the days that she lives through, and is soon stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque nightmare that leaves her questioning her friends, family, and even her own identity.
This is the premise of Anti Matter, a sci-fi thriller from The Cast Iron Picture Company, an independent production outfit. Make no mistake, though. The “independent” label should not be equated with low quality output, especially not in this case. Anti Matter has already picked up several accolades, including the award for Best Sci-Fi Screenplay at the Toronto Independent Film Festival, and an official selection for the Raindance Film Festival. One could hardly say these accolades are undeserved, either. The entire movie unspools in the manner of Martin Scorsese’s thrillers (think Shutter Island), with all the smarts of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and visuals that truly surpass many other big-budget Hollywood films out there.
After years of having to endure badly-coloured CGI splurges from Hollywood studios like Marvel and DC, it is wholly refreshing to see such an organically-made film
To say that Anti Matter is the sum of its influences would be wrong, too. The film is teased as a modern twist on the story of Alice in Wonderland, but to closely liken Anti Matter to any other story out there would be doing the film a disservice. Sure, it borrows concepts and scientific principles explored by many other sci-fi films, but what it does with them is completely original, with a twist at the end that not many would see coming unless they were well-versed in wormhole theory and quantum physics. Neither is the strongly science-based plot of the movie a huge problem – although the beginning of the movie starts off with a minor overload of scientific jargon, it only serves to help even the most uninitiated sci-fi viewer understand the workings behind the premise, and to allow the meanderings of its plot to make sense so that the thrills come first and confusion is eliminated. In fact, it is this unhindered ability to understand what may initially seem like a complicated, advanced scientific plot that makes the movie so enjoyable and suspenseful – viewers know that when the rabbit is finally pulled out of the hat, it will be something they may not have expected, but could have seen coming all the same.
Anti Matter is also a sight to behold, mostly thanks to cinematographer Gerry Vasbenter’s trained creative eye. Each frame could have been a photograph or a work of art in itself, and the variety of scenes (from the low-lit environment of a seedy Japanese restaurant in Oxford to the jerky, off-hue half-dream sequences of Ana walking disorientated through the streets) never fail to draw the viewer’s focus onto the central characters; using evocative lighting and colour editing fully to the film’s advantage. Even the action sequences, though filmed shakily, used the camera movement for realism rather than badly-placed effect, and only added to the high-octane tension already present in the film. After years of having to endure badly-coloured CGI splurges from Hollywood studios like Marvel and DC, it is wholly refreshing to see such an organically-made film, which still at times manages to maintain the classy neo-noir atmosphere of a Nicolas Winding Refn film, and at other times, the taut undercurrent of suspense that runs through David Fincher’s best work.
One would be hard-pressed indeed to find a trio of protagonists in a sci-fi movie better fleshed out than these three – yet another factor that gives Anti Matter its winning edge.
Even the characters are exceedingly well-written. For a movie whose three main characters are of the technologically-inclined ilk, Anti Matter does not fall into any of the infuriating tropes that mainstream movies have spent decades inventing. Ana is smart, headstrong, and confident – nowhere near the fumbling, socially awkward geek girl stereotype that most big-budget movies seem to have latched onto. Ana is also given extra life and dimension through an absolutely barn-storming performance by Yaiza Figueroa, who should definitely be tipped for great things in the future should her star continue to rise like this. Ana’s friends and fellow collaborators also have their own defining traits, and are uniquely intriguing in their own right. There is the lovable and charismatic Nate, a classmate and love interest of Ana’s, whose initially sweet behaviour soon harbours a darker edge to it – courtesy of Tom Barber-Duffy’s subtly sinister acting. Rounding up the trio is Liv, a snarky hacker teasingly described by Ana as “Dragon Tattoo hacker stock image”, who is brought to life courtesy of the very promising Philippa Carson. Anti Matter even manages to own Liv’s character by giving her a strangely charming personality and a very amusing backstory; allowing her character to stand on its own and distinguish itself from all the other dark-eyed, brooding hacker archetypes out there today. One would be hard-pressed indeed to find a trio of protagonists in a sci-fi movie better fleshed out than these three – yet another factor that gives Anti Matter its winning edge.
According to writer and director Keir Burrows – on whose shoulders should rest much praise for Anti Matter – the movie almost didn’t come into being entirely, because of budgeting issues. That fact seems shocking to hear, in spite of such hardship being fairly common amongst indie filmmakers. To know that this brilliant diamond in the rough may not have existed as a light amidst the dearth of overblown, CGI-heavy sci-fi messes out there today, almost hurts. Maybe, in that case, Anti Matter should be considered more than a film. See it as a call to arms to support more independent cinema, and a ray of hope for the otherwise oversaturated sci-fi movie industry of today. Just don’t let that light go out.
Image: The Cast Iron Picture Company