Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"Scintilla is minimal, efficient, entertaining."

Drawing from the veins of action, horror, science fiction, Scintilla takes a minimal setup and reaps great rewards. Not quite a heist movie, Scintilla has a cyberpunk sensibility, from the corporate raid enabled by mercenaries to the post-Soviet territories it winds its way beneath. Any 'one last job' that starts with being rescued from a prison in sub-Saharan Africa isn't likely to go well, but the op in Scintilla couldn't be more likely to go south if it started at the North Pole.

When John Lynch's Powell is rescued from Playa Negra he's singing, carefree, despite the dentist's chair. The prison where foreign conspirators to overthrow the president of Equatorial Guinea are held isn't perhaps as notorious as others, but it's a neat detail - it certainly establishes the kind of trouble Powell is capable of getting himself into for anyone not intimately versed in hired-gun geopolitics.

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We move to a war-torn republic, established quickly, minimally - a burning vehicle, over-turned, bodies in the road. The group drive on. They're a mixed bunch, the kind of ramshackle lot who aren't constrained like regular armies to consistency of armament, the kind for whom character is drawn in quick, broad strokes, by hip-flask, by neck-tie, by sandwich.

There is tremendous location work, from the compound above the surface, the messy business of infiltration aided by Ned Dennehy's portrayal of Harris, a lank liquid-courage kind of guy. Even Bond himself would be hard-pressed to achieve infiltration by inebriation, but it works - as does the rest of the film. Underneath the stronghold of the warlord and his bandits is a complex of 1950s vintage, well-used tunnels, a dizzying stair-case shot, eventually "a mile and a half underground".

What waits is the Scintilla project, an undisclosed asset for removal. A triumph, without giving too much away, of minimal monster design. Not quite a creature feature, not far removed from the pit of Quatermass, this is classic stuff.

Billy O'Brien (best known for 2005's Isolation) directs, and shares writing credits with four others, including novelist (and former vicar of Whitby) GP Taylor. That's usually a warning sign, but Scintilla works. Indeed, it might even be fair to call it workmanlike, but that's not intended as a dig. It wears its influences pretty openly, many of the effects share the practical minimalism (and whizbang rayguns) of Neil Blomkamp, and there's a feel it shares with many of Chris Cunningham's videos for acts like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. A look, a feel, that they themselves were borrowing - and so again the Scintilla project. Led by Irvine (a glacial Beth Winslet with a neat line in cardigans and an even classier murder raincoat than Patrick Bateman), it relies upon the Soviets having found something, and seeking to combine it with something else. Played by newcomer Perri Hanson and by Sophia Hatfield, there are two 'subjects', Goethe and Ali. Two entities that are a subtle combination, to good effect - like the laboratory assembled in what seems the pastel proscenium of a provincial Palladium, like seemingly endless corridors lined in colour-coded splashproof plastics.

If there's one potential complaint it's the title - while it was shown at EIFF 2014 as Scintilla it's listed in some places as The Hybrid, which just isn't as good. It won't be for everyone, Scintilla is minimal, efficient, entertaining - it feels at times like a feature-length version of a forgotten part of the original Playstation's release campaign, a Nineties pop promo shot on the Nostromo. It husbands its resources carefully, playing out detail, tension, complication, never allowing its reach to exceed its grasp, and carefully extending both. It's not earth-shatteringly original, nor does it seem to be trying to be - it's entertaining nonetheless, and displays more than a glimmer of talent.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2014
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Trouble lurks in an underground military research facility.

Director: Billy O'Brien

Writer: Steve Clark, Josh Golga, Rob Green, Billy O'Brien, G.P. Taylor

Starring: Perri Hanson, Antonia Thomas, John Lynch, Craig Conway, Morjana Alaoui, Ned Dennehy, Adam Fogerty, Jumayn Hunter, Beth Winslet, Edward Dogliani, Aiste Gramantaite, Steve Wraith, Dylan Barnes, Sophia Hatfield, Dermot Daly

Year: 2014

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2014

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