Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"An impressive piece of work which punches well above its weight."

These days, when one thinks of science fiction films, the first images that come to mind tend to be of big budget blockbusters with lots of special effects which are set in the future but don’t have any real science-related content. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the ant-intellectualism prevalent in our culture, but it’s rare to encounter films centred on scientists and their work, on the thrill of discovery or the risks and challenges presented by emerging technologies. The great thing about the latter approach is that it doesn’t require a big budget, just a strong central idea. Repeat is a small film focused on a small research project which could – if it comes to fruition – yield really big results.

It’s the work of writer/director Richard Miller and co-director Grant Arthur – a first feature for both of them – and although at first it might seem like science fantasy, there’s a more sophisticated structure hidden underneath. Part of Sci-Fi London 2021, it’s rooted in an academic world which will be familiar to many viewers; a world governed by strict codes of ethics and tight control over funding, in which keeping the right people happy is as important as continuing to demonstrate one’s skills. Some months after the disappearance of his daughter Sam (Ellila-Jean Wood), psychologist Ryan (Tom England) is in a precarious position. The goodwill directed towards him when the situation was new has just about run out, but he continues to behave erratically. The recent direction of his experiments and his willingness to talk about them in public, potentially damaging the reputation of his university, could put his career on the line.

That career means everything to Ryan, not just for practical or intellectual reasons but because he hopes to use it to find out what happened to his child. He believes that he can use the machine he is developing to tunnel through to the afterlife and converse with the dead. Nothing could prepare him for making contact, however, or for the real consequences of his actions.

To say more would be to risk spoiling a story with a good deal of hidden complexity in both its plot structure and its emotional arc. Regular readers will know that we’re not fans of female characters suffering to drive a male-centred narrative here at Eye For Film, but Repeat is something cleverer. Flashbacks give young Sam the chance to make her presence felt, whilst Charlotte Ritchie, as Ryan’s wife Emily, is an important presence in the film, functioning as a sort of psychological barometer despite the weight of her own grief.

There’s a lot here about fatherhood and how the overwhelming desire to protect can itself hamper the ability to make the decisions that matter, to be there when needed. We see how Ryan and Emily’s relationship is complicated first by Sam’s presence and then by her absence. In counselling the couple fail to engage, but their non-verbal communication remains. Both leads are very good, with Ritchie particularly impressive. The scenes with young actors are also well handled and feel natural, despite this frequently being an area where inexperienced directors struggle.

Scenes in which Ryan presents his work are nicely handled without any of the nonsense you might expect based on the initial premise. There is no tolerance for scientific carelessness, which is reflected in the care applied to structuring the film, and this becomes all the more important when we are reminded how easy it is to make a mistake.

Though both the low budget and the directors’ inexperience show in places, this is an impressive piece of work which punches well above its weight. There are enough hints to let you figure out what’s going on before the end, but the characters’ experiences remain powerful and the attention to detail all the way through means it may still surprise you. It’s one of those little independent efforts that really deserves to go the distance.

Repeat will enjoy a digital release from Trinity Creative on 15 November.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2021
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Repeat packshot
An inventor whose daughter is missing develops a device which he believes he can use to communicate with the dead.
Amazon link

Director: Richard Miller

Writer: Richard Miller

Starring: Charlotte Ritchie, Nina Wadia, Tom England, Ellila-Jean Wood

Year: 2021

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: UK


Sci-Fi 2021

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