Anti Matter (2016)

(aka Worm)

Ana, an American biology student working at Oxford, accidentally discovers a strange phenomenon, which she and her friends develop into a way to instantly transport solid matter through artificial wormholes.  But when she takes the first trip in their matter transporter, things start to go very wrong:  her memory is failing, strange nightmares plague her sleep, she thinks her friends are plotting against her, and a sinister figure in a bloody ape mask breaks into her room and tries to steal her notes…

Anti Matter‘s publicity campaign portrays it as a combination of Primer, Pi and Memento, which, does admittedly, sum up much of the film — although I’m not sure how much Pi is in there.  However, it is a solid example of  a growing subgenre of SF film, the Primer-inspired inventor-making-a-major-discovery-in-his-garage story.  Only here, the scientific discovery and its consequences have  been worked into part of a larger mystery.

In fact, Anti Matter offers us a dense tangle of storylines, from the experiment and its aftermath; to the big move Ana’s mother is making, from the house she and Ana lived in for years; the animal rights protests on campus; and the police investigation into the computer worm they used to harness enough computing power to make their machine work.   This complexity is part of what makes this film work so well, because the heart of the story is not the experiment, or its unexpected consequences (as we would expect from a Primer-style Indie), but Ana’s growing mental breakdown.  As the events around her get stranger, as the flashes of memory and dream get more frightening, as her paranoia gets stronger and as she keeps learning of all these bizarre, often inexplicable things she has done which she cannot remember, Ana becomes more and more disturbed, and ever more convinced that her friends are conspiring against her.

I’ll admit, I did guess one of the big plot points, but still found the ultimate  explanation somewhat of a surprise.  Writer/Director Keir Burrows did an impressive job pulling all the threads of his script together and making them work.  That’s one of the hardest parts of writing any mystery story, even without the complications of science fiction, and, let’s face it, a lot of movies, even those with huge Hollywood budgets, fail to do as well as Keir did on his first feature-length film.

It reminds me more than a little of some of the better Giallo films, thanks to the psychological horrors the heroine endures and the sinister ape masked stalker (who doesn’t get as much film time as the trailers suggest).  This is a nice change of pace for an SF film:  they rarely pay much attention to the psychological effects their events would have on its characters.  That does seem to be changing, although I suspect Independent films like Anti Matter had a lot to do with it!

The film ends with an intriguing final coda which leaves me wondering how much they’ve learned from their experiences — and which reminds me of the classic ending of The Quatermass Xperiment.  It adds just the right touch of uncertainty and reminds us again just how reckless these young inventors really are.

However, I do have to note that the one weak spot is their supposedly scientific explanation of that final twist:  it comes off as a bit of mystical handwaving, and a authorial voice declaring “pay no attention to the supernatural explanation behind the curtain.”  But this is more of a speed bump than a major disaster.  It isn’t as goofy as Arrival‘s linguistic “scientific” leap and, mercifully, comes with a lot more emphasis on the facts of the situation than on their explanation.

I can’t help wondering, though, whether it would have worked better if it had just presented the facts without offering  a full explanation.  Unfortunately, I suspect a lot of the SF fans just wouldn’t be comfortable if they left anything unexplained!

Despite that glitch, I found this an excellent SF mystery film, which does a lot with its minimal resources, adds a bit of visual flourish, and gets strong performances from its cast (particularly Yaiza Figueroa as Ana).  It is definitely a promising start for a young director, and I hope we’ll be hearing from him again soon.

(My thanks to Dieudonnée Burrows, the film’s producer, for providing a screener)


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