By Elias Savada.
Memory loss and Queen of Hearts madness team up against a you-shouldn’t-play-with-Mother-Nature anti-hero in Anti Matter, an ambitious and entertaining sci-fi effort from director-writer Keir Burrows. He’s a South African-born, U.K.-based filmmaker who has decided that a his feature debut would journey to (Alice in) Wonderland.
Burrows has been making well-received short films (click on the links below to watch!) for a half-dozen years. His first movie, the frantic, airborne apocalypse (and unquestionably low budget) sci-fi drama Air, was released in 2011 and definitely showcased a talent who could stretch his production dollar into a diverting reel. Donkey, a reflective, black-and-white mood piece, followed, before Burrows switched genres with Grace (2012), a somber, brink-of-nuclear-war drama. Yaiza Figueroa, the Puerto Rican-born muse who carries the lead in director’s latest effort, was part of that film’s ensemble cast, and took center stage in Burrows’ The Showreel (2014), a fascinating adventure fantasy about an office cleaner’s dream of movie stardom. His franticly-edited, crazed gore fest Hen Party (2014) seems to offer a similar, but much darkly comic, premise to this year’s Rough Night, with a male stripper shot dead by some young, silly ladies (although the men in the film are just as demented).
All this leads up to the filmmaker’s new quantum thriller. It seems that both Air and Grace were filial precursors to Anti Matter, as the writer-director does like his end-of-the-world scenarios. Anti Matter reduces doomsday to a microcosm set in and around Oxford University, where American Ana Carter (Figueroa), a chemical engineering doctorate student, accidentally creates a wormhole as part of her solitary electrolyte/electromagnetic pulse lab work. On board with her is study partner Nathan (Tom Barber-Duffy) and a hacker, Liv, who helps circumvent the power constraints that their escalating experiments require. The latter is portrayed by Philippa Carson, one of the “Freerange Poultry” gals in Hen Party, now dropping her comic chops for a decidedly more serious, goth role.
You would think Ana’s professors would be a little more attentive to her work, but without such supervision the excitement of what she has unearthed prods the threesome into taking bold, brazen, and totally ridiculous steps that will result in a Méliès-style magic show with a sideshow of madness. No doubt scientists in the audience will scoff at some (most?) of the mumbo-jumbo particle physics dialogue and the low-brow, makeshift work place, but the delivery by the cast should make it believable to most viewers. That Ana is furiously typing away at the keyboard as numbers (010101ohno) flash by the computer screen, seemingly unrelated to what she’s pecking, is a tad farfetched. Just remember, you’re supposed to be watching this sleight of hand for the fun and mystery.
Aside from the consequences that occur after Ana has used extremely poor judgment to become the first human subject in her teleportation thesis, there is a subplot tossing MacGuffins at the viewer from an increasing volatile and angry cabal of animal testing protestors stationed outside the laboratory. There’s also a small backstory for Ana involving her mother (an effervescent Yolanda Yazquez), who is moving to a new apartment back in Florida (pre-Irma, of course, and bathed in a golden glow).
As for the actual room where all the moving and shaking is happening, it’s rather drab and dark and dusty. Poorly lit (for science, not for cinema), with stools stacked upside-down on adjacent lab desks, with debris scattered about, this is not the place you would expect to foster such a world-changing discovery. But, hey, Steve Jobs and gang started a multi-billion dollar business in a basement, so why not?
A late-blooming romantic relationship between two of the leads allows for a brief, scantily-dressed bedroom scene, but the one problem I had is a too-long middle section, in which Ana’s short-term memory issues become a spiritual conundrum, shrouded in dreams and visions. Naturally, Ana freaks out after her apartment and laptop are robbed by someone wearing a Planet of the Apes mask, and there’s another cyberterrorist governmental authority that’s trailing her, making her feel even more neurotic. While I admire the tension being built up, the cumulative effort does wear on a bit too long. Nathan and Liv both offer too many sidelong glances about a secret, revealed late in the film, that might make your head spin. The film might have flowed better if a quarter hour of its 106-minute running time had been clipped.
Aside from scripting and directing, Burrows also was a camera operator, colorist, and visual effects and sound design maestro, working with longtime collaborators producer (and wife) Dieudonnée Burrows (with whom he partners in their company Cast Iron Picture Co.), composer Edwin Sykes, and cinematographer Gerry Vasbenter. Editor Rhys Barter and production designer Jorge Bianco Muñoz worked with Burrows and company on at least one of his previous shorts.
Anti Matter plays loose with science, but certainly entertains with a good, attractive cast. Figueroa’s strong Latina female role here should step up her recognition in the public’s eye, considering Burrows’ films have only had festival screenings prior to Anti Matter’s U.K. theatrical opening last month and the recent U.S. video-on-demand release. Like the upward progression of his short films, his first feature does suggest there’s a bigger (budget, at least) in Burrows’ future.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He served as an executive producer on the 2015 horror film German Angst, Penny Lane’s award-winning documentary Nuts!, and the forthcoming supernatural thriller Ayla. He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2017 by Centipede Press).