Anti Matter


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Anti Matter
"It's anchored by a strong performance from Yaiza Figueroa, who is definitely one to watch."

One of the appealing things about science fiction as a film genre is that if it's approached intelligently it can be done very well on a tight budget, making it a great starting point for imaginative filmmakers keen to show off their skills. This is Kier Burrows' first feature, though he's made several award-winning shorts. His professionalism and focus on getting the details right mean it looks much better than one would expect in context, and it's anchored by a strong performance from Yaiza Figueroa, who is definitely one to watch.

There's a lot here that's reminiscent of Primer, and fans of that film may well find it intriguing. The publicity pitch, which presents it as a spin on Alice In Wonderland, does it no favours - a couple of dozens films try and fail at that one every year - so it's better appreciated on its own merits. There is no rabbit hold here, only a wormhole, but that 'only' opens up a world of possibilities. Exciteable dialogue between the three young Phd students who have developed the technology sensibly gives us only the slightest hint of its potential. In common with much of the best science fiction, the film is dealing with somehing that may well become reality one day, but it's not simply here to wow us, it's exploring the existential difficulties that may lie in wait. We get a flavour of the societal and cultural challenges involved (there are echoes of The Man In The White Suit), but at its heart is the difficulty of personal adjustment and shifts in perspective.

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Figueroa plays Ana, the student who solves the problem of wormhole creation and stabilisation on a macroscopic scale. Her colleagues Liv (Philippa Carson) and Nate (Tom Barber-Duffy) help set up the experiment needed to turn theory into something they can publish and expand on, and also look into how they can set up and monetise the discovery. The first problem with the experiment is that it will need a lot of computing power, so Liv sets up a worm to steal power from other people's machines around the world (which does leave one wondering if there might not be easier ways for her to get rich quick). The second is that in order to access the technology's full commercial potential, a human being will have to be sent successfully through the wormhole. Dismissing Nate's assumption that he's obliged to be the hero, Ana draws the short straw - and, of course, something goes wrong.

There is much here of the character of late Seventies paranoid science fiction, which gives Anti Matter a degree of nostalgic charm even when it's uncomfortable to watch. Viewers familiar with work produced in that era will also find that it invites a myriad questions (reminding one of the way Duncan Jones used past narratives about robots to lead viewers astray in Moon). Has Ana found herself in a parallel universe? Has she lost some undefinable part of herself? Is sudden police surveillance all about attempts to hunt down the source of the worm, or something else? Burrows effectively layers on the paranoia. The presence of animal rights protestors protesting outside Oxford University, where the experiment took place, creates a visually chaotic landscape which enhances the sense of disorientation.

Not everything works smoothly. Some of the supporting performances are just a little too pat, and Burrows struggles to balance competing strands of thought as the film progresses towards its unnecessarily protracted final scenes. It's up to Figueroa to hold it together, and this she does with aplomb. Carson and Barber-Duffy, though their characters have less opportunity to develop, are solid and believable as her colleagues and, importantly, the three convince as physicists; the film's scientific trappings are rendered with sufficient confidence to satisfy actual academics. The flip side of this is that less educated viewers may find parts of the story less accessible, or too dry, but overall the balance of emotional and intellectual content is handled well.

An impressive first feature that bodes well for the talent involved, Anti Matter may not revolutionise the way you live, but its discreet underlying theme, visually hinted at right at the outset, invites you to value that more.

Reviewed on: 07 Jul 2017
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Anti Matter packshot
After participating in a wormhole experiment, a PhD student starts having trouble with her memory and finds herself in increasingly disturbing situations.

Director: Keir Burrows

Writer: Keir Burrows

Starring: Yaiza Figueroa, Philippa Carson, Tom Barber-Duffy

Year: 2016

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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