Teased as a modern, sci-fi thriller take on Alice In Wonderland, Anti Matter – written and directed by Keir Burrows – follows Ana (Yaiza Figueroa) a scientist leading the Oxford University team who uncover the science around wormholes. If that description intrigues you, then the film itself comes highly recommended.
When time pressures come into play, the team is forced to escalate quickly from animal to human testing, and Ana draws the short straw to go into the machine. When she wakes up the next day, things are slightly different. Slightly wrong. She’s not forming memories, and she’s missing huge swathes of time.
Ana begins to wonder – did some essential part of her get lost in the process? Are we beings made up of matter alone, or do our memories, our souls, exist in a different form that has no physical weight? It’s with these questions that Anti Matter distinguishes itself.
Of course, science fiction of this type has a fine line to tread. It discusses what makes us human, what makes us ‘real’, and there’s always the danger that the discussion will become step into overly-pretentious territory rather than communicating anything more meaningful.
But the most effective thing that Anti Matter does with this concept is to disorientate the audience in the same way as it does Ana – we’re not privy to any of the events that she doesn’t remember, and so are just as confused as she is when almost-boyfriend Nate begins to act cold towards her or she wakes up with no recollection of where she was the night before.
Even before the experiment, Ana is categorised as an outsider. If her accent didn’t tip us off, Liv’s announcement to her grandmother that her associate with an immigrant is an interesting detail to include. It’s further underlined by the continuous phone conversations with Ana’s mother, who we see in her apartment that (possibly for budgetary reasons) jars visually with everything else in the film.
There’s also a romantic subplot that we discover has been on pause for about six years. Ana’s life doesn’t appear to have started before we got there which, far from being a criticism, adds to the sense of unease when things start to unravel.
The memory aspect invokes films such as Memento, especially when Ana resorts to making detailed notes about her activities and conversations in order to make sense of her days.
This is all set to a backdrop of a protest outside of the university over animal testing, and that’s a part of the film used to particularly great effect. Students wearing animal masks are suddenly frighteningly sinister, and otherwise benign campaigners or police filming the chaos start to contribute to Ana’s already-fractured psyche. After all, it’s not paranoia if someone’s actually out to get you. The protest starts small, but escalates at the same rate as Ana is losing her mind. It’s a simple way of upping the tension and letting the audience into her inner distress, but simple works here.
While the film ultimately hooks you in, it should be said that the first 15 minutes or so are almost painful to get through. Every aspect of the science behind the team’s experiments is explained in detail, and if you’re by chance playing a sci-fi jargon drinking game then you’ll most likely have to watch the rest of the film from a hospital bed with alcohol poisoning. It tries way too hard when a simple ‘it’s a wormhole machine!’ would have sufficed.
As the mystery develops, you begin to suspect that there’s going to be a final twist – there is. Without spoiling anything, it evokes that of a Stargate SG-1 episode I saw as a child, which haunts me to this day.
But the film has so much style and so much confidence that you forgive it those wobbles immediately. A film with as much emotional impact as cold, hard ideas about the nature of humanity, your mind will be spinning by the end.
Anti Matter is a hugely ambitious film that soars as often as it falls flat. Yet, on a tiny budget and with a cast and crew made up of burgeoning talent, it is a film that must be admired for its aspiration and lofty intentions. Cerebral and at times truly chilling, it’s worth checking out for sci-fi fans looking for something fresh and interesting.
The film is out now on DVD and VOD.
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