Dealing with plot inconsistencies as well as pests in “Alien: Night Shift”

Aidan Michael Brezonick, “Alien: Night Shift” (2019; extended version 2020)

Not one of the better films out of the batch of six made in 2019 to herald the 40th anniversary of the Alien film series, this short flick does have its moody and atmospheric moments. At least the idea of setting it in a colony store where a new employee learns she has to deal with more than just rats and cockroaches as pests is a good one. Sometimes big problems that can threaten an entire colony’s operation can start in places that everyone from the most senior leaders down ignores because the people employed in those places are at the bottom of the social and political hierarchy.

On a routine supply operation to a mining colony on exomoon LV-422 (presumably a sister moon to LV-426), supply-ship crew member Welles (T K Richardson) finds his colleague Harper (Tanner Rittenhouse) who has been missing for the past 24 hours and is looking drunk and dishevelled. Welles brings him into the colony store where senior store employee Springer (Christopher Murray) and new recruit Rolly (Amber Gaston) are working the night shift. Harper’s condition worsens rapidly, he starts vomiting and convulsing, and before you know it … well, this is an Alien film short so you know what happens next. Except that your mind has to fill in most of the details because the film quickly focuses on Welles shooting wildly at close range, fatally wounding Springer and managing to smash all the lights so the entire store is plunged into near-darkness.

Rolly tries to help Springer while Welles quickly scoots out of the colony store. With Springer gone, Rolly hunts down the Alien hiding in amongst the supplies. She finds it and disposes of it – but any feeling of triumph she might have is short-lived as she hears the sounds of panic, shouting and deathly chittering noises from outside the store.

The film is no great advance on the themes and motifs of “Alien” and might actually fill in as a sub-plot for James Cameron’s “Aliens” though the action takes place in a different colony. The acting is not exceptional and the characters are no more than stereotypes. The plot has some inconsistencies that render the film weak: for one thing, if Welles is aiming his gun at the Alien, why does he hit everything else including Springer but the Alien?

In a new extended version, the incident in the colony store is recast in the framework of an interview by investigators hired by mega-corporation Weyland-Yutani interrogating Welles as to what happened. Welles is clearly conflicted and ashamed over his actions, especially in leaving Rolly to cope with the Alien on her own. While they link the incident to the strange mystery of the spaceship Nostromo, in which an entire crew (save one) perished, the investigators appear either clueless or limited by the scope of their duties and training to recognise the seriousness of the LV-422 incident and the threat it poses to all of Weyland-Yutani’s mining colonies on the exomoon. Fans of the original Alien film series will not find much in this extended film that is new as it mainly serves to confirm that Weyland-Yutani is a typically bureaucratic organisation where people work to rule and are not motivated to help their fellow human beings or do more than their job descriptions require them to do.

As a group the six Alien shorts are faithful to most aspects of the original Ridley Scott film – all films feature working class characters in gritty industrial-type settings – but only a few of them transcend the original film in their themes or genre type.

A good setting and cast but weak growth in “Alien: Harvest”

Benjamin Howdeshell, “Alien: Harvest” (2019)

It had stunning CGI visuals, a scary setting in a failing spaceship, a willing cast and a lot of tension … so what went wrong in “Alien: Harvest”? Of the six short films made in 2019 in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the cinema release of Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, “… Harvest” has the least original plot and adds nothing new or refreshing to the mystique and mythology surrounding the Alien film franchise. On a damaged space harvester ship far out in the cosmos, four survivors of a disaster try to find their way to an escape pod using a motion sensor while being pursued by a giant Xenomorph. Too late three of them discover that their guide Mari (Agnes Albright) doesn’t necessarily have their best interests at heart.

The flashing lights, the claustrophobic network of corridors and the industrial look of the harvester’s interiors are faithful to “Alien” and replicate that film’s paranoia, tension and rising horror as the monster cuts down any and all humans who stray into its path. Even androids get short shrift from the monster. At the very end, the very pregnant Hannah starts having labour pains. Not to worry, the Alien has the problem of caring for Hannah’s baby all sorted out already!

The conclusion really doesn’t make sense … the symbolism behind it is unnecessary, even sadistic. How on earth the Alien and its kind can presume to know more about human physiology perhaps more than their own might have most of us scratching our heads. Apart from this, the characters are little more than stereotypes that viewers of the Alien full-length films are familiar with.

Of the six films made, “… Harvest” is the weakest of the lot: it relies too much on viewers being familiar with the original Ridley Scott film and does not create its own viable branch that could grow into a feature-length movie tree.

Haunted (green) house horror plot with a twist in “Alien: Specimen”

Kelsey Taylor, “Alien: Specimen” (2019)

A suspenseful little short, more haunted-house horror than sci-fi, “… Specimen” gets points from me for using its setting, cinematography and especially the use of lighting, darkness, shadows and their contrasts in creating tension and drama, and extracting the plot’s full potential for terror. The action takes place in a space colony’s greenhouse where botanist Julie (Jolene Anderson) is working the night shift with guard dog Maggie (Goose) for company. Inevitably something goes bump, Maggie starts barking furiously and the greenhouse suddenly closes all egress and shuts down the power, effectively locking Julie and Maggie in with … whatever the strange chittering thing is that escaped cargo storage. While Julie manages to get some of the lights back on with a generator, Maggie races off ahead to find the intruder. Julie soon follows in pursuit, armed with whatever gardening tools she has at hand.

Anderson plays her part well as the no-nonsense botanist who (wisely) hits out and bashes something, and then might decide to ask questions later. Goose does well too, to the extent that a few viewers might find themselves shedding a tear or two when Maggie meets a dreadful fate. There is a twist at the end of the story which deflates the entire plot and leaves Anderson’s character Julie appearing unconvincing if not even a little cold-blooded herself.

The main problem with the film is that it’s perhaps a bit too long and needs to come to the point more quickly. Shots of Julie running around in the dark with her torch, finding strange messes and items knocked over, while automated watering systems periodically send out plumes of spray become a bit tedious. Yes, we understand Julie is working in an area resembling a huge dark labyrinth full of secret hideouts where an Alien might lurk.

The CGI design of the Alien is very disappointing with the thing resembling a schnitzel even before it meets the sharp end of a shovel. Curiously the shovel doesn’t disintegrate into sizzling molten metal. When Julie uses the shovel for something equally disturbing again, I start to wonder who or what is the real Alien … at least the Alien acts according to its nature.

Too many Alien references contained in “Alien: Containment”

Chris Reading, “Alien: Containment” (2019)

For me, this nine-minute work was a rushed piece that crammed perhaps too many references to Ridley Scott’s original “Alien” and ended up suffering for it. Four survivors of a terrible catastrophe onboard a space station race away in their escape pod while the station itself disintegrates. The four try to piece together exactly what the contagion was on the space station that spread faster than you can say “plague” and which left a bloody swathe that has traumatised three of the four survivors, the fourth being in a coma. The three start to doubt one another and each suspects one of his or her fellows to be carrying the contagion. The comatose man is scanned with an instrument and found to be uninfected. While pilot Ward (Gaia Weiss) and scientist Albrecht (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) are confused, the third conscious passenger Nass (Theo Barklem-Biggs), on the verge of hysteria, throws accusations, makes threats, attacks Ward and nearly stabs her… and then sickens rapidly. He hits the floor, coughs up blood, convulses and … well, you know the rest.

From here on the film repeats much of “Alien” in miniature as the newborn Xenomorph scuttles around the escape pod, Ward tries desperately to help Nass and then defend herself, and Albrecht does a treacherous turn in locking Ward in the control room with the Xenomorph and trying to save herself. At the same time the escape pod is picked up by a larger spaceship and Ward faces the problem of trying to alert the crew on that ship that they must not open the escape pod lest they allow the Xenomorph to run amok in the spaceship and repeat the catastrophe from the space station.

While the three actors do their best with what they’re given – Barklem-Biggs overacts his hysterical role, Ward plays a flat second-rate version of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley without the heroism or compassion, and Duncan-Brewster gets little to do other than echo Ian Holm’s Ash (with viewers not know if she’s human or android) – they are unable in the time available to them to flesh out their characters as more than cardboard cut-out stereotypes. The plot is too rushed and everything happens too quickly. Viewers might well end up just as traumatised by the speed at coincidences occur: just as Nass goes fully rogue, the Alien within him decides it wants shot of his madness – and then the escape pod makes contact with a spaceship at last!

The sets where all the action whooshes by as fast as the Alien itself are well made and the early animation showing the space station, in black silhouette against the background of a giant planet, breaking up while the escape pod flees is incredible to watch with all its minimal starkness and beauty. If director Chris Reading had been given a bigger budget to make a longer film tribute, the plot could have been stretched out to allow for character development and depth, and details about characters and the events that happened on the space station could have been introduced to make the plot and its conclusion more realistic. Ward’s self-sacrifice would have been more tragic and heart-breaking.

A darkly comic and tender story of love and companionship in “Alien: Alone”

Noah Miller, “Alien: Alone” (2019)

After seeing all six short films made in 2019 to mark the 40th anniversary of the cinematic release of Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, I must admit they’re not all good and most of them don’t stray very far from the original slasher flick / sci-fi horror genre narrative. Miller’s contribution, the last of the six, comes as a breath of fresh air: taking as its inspiration the original film’s android science officer Ash and that android’s fascination with the Alien to the exclusion of all else, including the safety of the humans on board the Nostromo, “Alien: Alone” dives into a darkly twisted tale of two lost and abandoned beings who find in each other companionship and care. With both facing certain death, one of them determines to save the other and prolong its life – and in so doing, leave a legacy with the other. It so happens that these beings who find friendship and comfort are an android and an Alien.

Hope (Taylor Lyons) is the remaining crew member on board the commercial transport vessel the Otranto. The Otranto is slowly breaking down and Hope spends her dreary days repairing various parts of the vessel and hoping beyond hope that (as her Captain had tolder her) she would be rescued by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. We figure out very early that Hope is an android when she informs us (in voiceover) that she has counted every rivet in the ship and arrived at a figure of over 28,000. After a fire emergency on the ship reduces the power available so that a section of the ship that hitherto banned access to Hope is now open, Hope walks in and is informed by the ship’s information systems that a life-form in cryogenic deep freeze is ready for resuscitation. Hope revives the life-form which turns out to be the face-hugger form of the Alien. As you’d expect the face-hugger attacks Hope but finds no purchase on the android. At first the two have something of a stand-off but eventually they warm to each other and enjoy each other’s company. Gradually though the face-hugger begins to starve to death and Hope herself realises her own body is breaking down and dying. She decides then and there to save the face-hugger and enable it to complete its life-cycle by powering up the Otranto and taking it somewhere in the vast universe where it is likely to come in contact with a ship of unsuspecting life-forms.

At least until this point, the short film is actually a very touching treatment of loneliness and isolation, and perhaps of the madness that can afflict even androids as a result of extreme isolation. The distress that Hope experiences once she realises she is dying and her companion is dying as well is very palpable, and viewers can feel pity for them both. Lyons does good work as Hope, at once a sensitive being for whom viewers can feel some sympathy … and a ruthless android determined to find a host for her pet. Close-ups of Lyons’ face along with a voiceover from Martha Vincent enable this connection between the character and audiences. Viewers might do well to consider though that as an android, Hope may not be able to override her programming and the objective laid down in her brain circuits: that she exists solely to help bring back Alien specimens to Earth or wherever for Weyland-Yutani Corporation to study and use for its own purposes. Had Miller considered this aspect of Hope, he might have (within the limits of his budget) pursued and expanded on it further in the plot, with the result that perhaps Hope becomes a more complicated character wrestling with her programming and trying to overcome it.

After Hope makes her decision, the tone of the film changes quickly: it becomes a more conventional sci-fi horror flick as the Otranto makes contact with another ship and that ship’s human pilot (played by James Paxton, son of Bill Paxton who played US Colonial Marine Hudson in James Cameron’s “Aliens”) stumbles across Hope and her pet. In the film’s final scene, which is open-ended, Hope and her pet regard each other with new eyes, as it were, and just at the very point when the film cuts out and the final credits start rolling, viewers realise anything and everything could happen. Does Hope die or is somehow able to survive? Does the Alien remember what Hope has done for it? Is the Alien even capable of experiencing a state akin to human emotions and feelings such as pity and gratitude?

While the film’s denouement and conclusion may be disappointing after its build-up, and the sets used in the film are cheap-looking – 20th Century Fox did allocate a small production budget for it – its premise and ideas, all inspired by the original “Alien” film, constitute an original and intriguing development that raises questions about love and companionship, and how a love bond can be so strong that it threatens the lives of others. It calls into question also the nature of androids vis-a-vis humans and whether androids might be worthy of being considered human if they can experience emotion and feeling.

Worker solidarity to save the day and a mining colony in “Alien: Ore”

Kailey and Sam Spear, “Alien: Ore” (2019)

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror film “Alien”, the film production company 20th Century Fox commissioned six short films to capture the spirit of the original film. Twin sister film-makers Kailey and Sam Spear brought out this work that runs just short of eleven minutes and which (like the original film) focuses on ordinary working people forced to defend themselves with the meagre tools they have when faced with the hideous alien menace.

Lorraine Hawkes (Mikela Jay) goes down into a mine along with her fellow miners to investigate the disappearance of a work colleague. They quickly discover their colleague’s remains along with the remnants of opened alien eggs and realise that a group of aliens has infested the mine. While mine supervisor Hanks (Tara Pratt), following the miners’ movements on her screen, dithers over whether to abandon the miners to their fate or not, one of the aliens starts picking off the miners and those fortunate enough to survive the sudden attack escape back into the elevator. Lorraine though is determined not to allow the aliens to escape out of the mine and threaten the mining colony (where she is raising her grandchild) so she decides to go back down to the mine to stop the aliens’ advance. Her fellow miners follow her in an act of solidarity.

With most of the action occurring in claustrophobic settings – the miners in their crowded elevator or in a tunnel and Hanks in a bunker-like control room – the film makes good use of the restrictive, cramped conditions the characters are forced to work in to create a sense of rising horror and panic. The dim conditions in the mine help obscure the CGI animation used to create the alien and much of what we see of the alien is actually in silhouette. The actors playing the miners look unglamorous and very sweaty in the hot underground mine.

In such a short film with a basic story, a fairly large cast of actors but a small budget, character development is very limited: by deciding to put the colony’s welfare above her own safety and life, Lorraine emerges as a leader among the miners. Hanks’ apparent indecision (which may mask a more sinister agenda to leave the miners to their fate and capture the alien for the mining company – it’s probably a subsidiary of Weyland Yutani Corporation) sets her up as antagonist to Lorraine’s heroine though the women do not actually confront each other. The film deliberately opts for an open ending: we never find out if Lorraine and the miners succeed in driving back the aliens and avenging their dead colleague.

Ordinary working people, abandoned to their own inadequate technology and forced to fight a fierce, inhuman enemy, prepare to sacrifice themselves for their community with grit, when those who should support them desert them instead: this theme is true to the spirit of the original “Alien” film, in which human intelligence, ingenuity and dogged determination do more than technology to bring down a dangerous enemy. A bigger budget, a more developed and lengthier plot, and better character development than reliance on flat stereotyped characters could make this short film an intriguing and intelligent addition to the “Alien” film franchise.

Ryoko’s Qubit Summer: a human-AI romance culminating in transformation

Yuichi Kondo, “Ryoko’S Qubit Summer” (2018)

Here is a sweet film about an unusual love affair between an AI researcher and an AI creation. In the future, quantum technology is used to create an experimental AI universe called KANUMA inside a quantum computer. The KANUMA universe appears very similar to ours, complete with living things capable of higher intelligence. One day however the AI beings begin to express themselves in a language unknown to humans, in defiance of algorithms and commands in KANUMA that compel the AI beings to obey humans and not to exceed human capabilities. Human scientists decide to destroy KANUMA rather than try to modify it. In the final days before KANUMA is destroyed, AI researcher Ryoko (Ami Yamada) and AI being Natsu (Hinako) interact in the forms of schoolgirls and fall in love in the KANUMA universe. How they express their love and feelings for each other in the final hours of KANUMA’s existence, revealing Ryoko’s vulnerabilities, dominates much of the film with a twist (which may not surprise those familiar with science fiction romantic fantasy) that leads to a happy ending. In a sense then, KANUMA is destroyed but a small part of it lives on in the real universe.

The actors playing the main characters do their job well without being outstanding or memorable. The idea of Ryoko and Natsu being schoolgirl characters in KANUMA when Ryoko in real life is an adult researcher might strike Western audiences as a bit creepy, especially as the characters share a long kiss and (spoiler alert) merge at the film’s climax; the sexual connotations are not very thinly disguised. Perhaps (or perhaps not) Japanese audiences might find schoolgirl relationships as a metaphor for exploring lesbian relationships more acceptable or less confronting than seeing two fully grown adult women in such a relationship. The nature of Ryoko and Natsu’s rather child-like or childish relationship distracts from a message about how humans should take responsibility for creating virtual universes with virtual beings that exceed human control, and how humans should perhaps learn to live with AI beings rather than force them to obey and follow only human instructions and algorithms. The consummation of their love results in a transformation for Ryoko, cleverly portrayed in her grey “real life” world becoming infused with colour from the KANUMA universe, but with the characters being rather bland originally, the whole plot seems trite.

The film would have benefited from a deeper and more thoughtful treatment of the themes and issues it presents: the human attempt to control the AI universe and its creatures to serve self-centred human desires rather than allow the AI universe to evolve according to its own natural laws and trends; a plea for humans to accept the AI universe as it is and to learn to live with it; and how even human attempts to destroy the AI universe will fail if the AI universe has enough self-awareness to defend itself, a strong sense of purpose and a will to survive. Ultimately the AI universe will find a way to thwart human desire – by becoming part of humans themselves. A deeper treatment would require more character development with characters questioning the purpose of their existence, the purpose of KANUMA and why it was created, and human characters in particular being forced to acknowledge the consequences of creating sentient and self-aware beings capable of independent thought and action but denying such beings choice and agency over their lives.

The special effects are done well and discreetly, illustrating the changes that come into Ryoko’s life as she and Natsu become a new hybrid being. The film suggests that human evolution is leading towards a fusion of natural and human-made consciousnesses, and that we may be unwise in trying to prevent this or to control it for selfish reasons.

CTRL Z: gentle romantic time-travel comedy with a sting in its tail

James Kennedy, “CTRL Z” (2017)

Cats may have nine lives but the characters in this very funny sci-fi romantic comedy end up having nearly 4,800 lives thanks to a time-travel device invented by main character Ed (Edward Easton), a socially shy romantic who finds talking to and impressing Sarah (Katie Beresford) the girl of his dreams so excruciatingly difficult that he needs an infinite number of attempts to work up the courage to approach her. Each time he makes a dreadful mistake, he has to reset his time device back to the point where he is about to leave the table at the fast food restaurant to walk over to where she sits alone – but this means after making his mistake he has to die or kill himself. For support he has brought along a friend Carrie (Kath Hughes) and for much of the film’s running time Ed and Carrie keep up a constant repartee about his time-travelling box (which Ed explains has certain limitations, all of which are necessary for the way in which the plot eventually unfolds: the time-travel device only goes back in time to a predetermined time but is able to loop over and over indefinitely), the effects it has already had on both their lives – they have been stuck in the fast food restaurant for three years already – and the countless (ahem) times Ed has tried to talk to Sarah without getting sick and throwing up. Eventually after Carrie’s numerous suggestions to Ed fail, Ed turns to the waitress (Natalie Ferrigno) for help and the waitress suggests Sarah is upset and not amenable to being chatted up. Ed then tries in his own way to offer comfort to Sarah who is touched by his gesture of kindness.

From then on the surprises pile on quite thick and fast: Ed’s attempt at romance seems to have failed once again but then there is a twist and for the first time in a long time Ed’s life seems to be on track with a definite friendship. The climax when it comes – when Ed steps out onto the road – is sudden and savage, and Ed’s face, when he goes into an endless time loop, is sure to spark speculation about his behaviour during that loop. Having got off first base finally after nearly 4,800 tries, does he now suddenly realise that making second base is more difficult than he knows … or is the euphoria of leaving first base so good that he wants to relive that moment for as long as he can even if it means dying another 4,800 times? And what will happen after the plutonium in his time-travel device finally decays after, say … 82 million years later?

Comedians Easton and Hughes have good chemistry together and their timing is excellent while Beresford and Ferrigno have much less to do and seem more limited. The other minor characters in the fast food restaurant serve as decoration but even they are quite memorable in their reactions to Ed and Carrie stabbing each other with steak knives. The fast food restaurant setting with the low lighting throws the emphasis on Ed and Carrie, and the film noirish evening / late night ambience adds mystery and a sense of this story being isolated and self-contained that suits the plot with its looping repetitions.

A significant moment comes when Ed and Carrie step outside the fast food restaurant for a quick smoke and Carrie accuses Ed of reworking his life’s narrative in a way that suits his selfish purposes while others (like her) are not allowed the same privilege. At the same time the decisions that Ed makes and reworks (or on the other hand, does not make or rework) surely have an effect on other people’s lives that are long-lasting: over the three years that Ed has been working up the courage to talk to Sarah, she and the other people in the fast food restaurant may have lost three years of their lives. Interestingly it’s only when Sarah makes a decision that all characters, Ed included, can move on from three years of endless repetitions.

Ostensibly a film about friendships and the difficulties of romantic love and how it must be negotiated, “Ctrl Z” has a little sting in its tail that might say something about the nature of repetition, addiction and ultimately control over one’s life and other people’s lives. What seems to be apparent victory for Ed turns out to have a price.

Vikaari: how war and instability might breed a new species of predatory, psychopathic human

Sandun Seneviratne, Charlie Bray, “Vikaari” (2020)

Cunningly disguised as a TV current affairs article / mini-documentary, complete with different styles of filming including videotaping, this short film – possibly inspired by John Wyndham’s novel “The Midwich Cuckoos” and the films that were based on it – is a commentary on political and social instability in nations that have long suffered from civil war or destabilisation by foreign forces, and the consequences that arise from that instability. In Sri Lanka and other war-torn nations across the planet, an alarming phenomenon is observed: women are giving birth to children with unusual physical and mental characteristics including mind control, telekinesis, communicating with one another through telepathy and other apparent paranormal abilities. The children are distinguished by their apparent autistic behaviour and their blank eyes. Across Sri Lanka, the children’s presence among impoverished townspeople and villages in the countryside leads to unease and tension that boil over into hatred and the formation of vigilante groups intent on killing them; at the same time there are individuals and charity groups sympathetic to the plight of families with these children who try to shield the families from discrimination, intolerance and violence. The children though have their own ways of retaliating against those who would destroy them – and the film carries hints that the children themselves are not above exploiting those who would try to help them.

The acting is credible and even minor characters play their roles well though their screen time may be no more than a few minutes. Stand-out actors are Ashan Dias, playing the vigilante group leader, and Bimsara Premaratne as the do-gooder doctor who organises a charity to help the families of the vikaari (“change” in Sanskrit) children. Richard Dee-Roberts plays the Western armchair science expert brought onto the unnamed news program to discuss the vikaari phenomenon and Charlie Bray who co-wrote the script has a small part to play in the film. Chevaan Daniel is brought in as the Sri Lankan President sanctimoniously mouthing platitudes about racial tolerance and Sri Lanka being a multicultural nation where racial and other discrimination is dealt with, despite the nation having just come out of a 30-year civil war based in large part by the Sri Lankan government persecuting an ethnic and religious minority.

The underlying themes and messages may be a bit confused but somehow the most important message – that the vikaari phenomenon has come about as an evolutionary survival mechanism in response to war and foreign meddling, and that the vikaari children demonstrate a predatory, even psychopathic mind-set in response to the brutality and violence of wars begun by people seeking to control others and to steal their lands and resources – is buried deeply under other messages about tolerance and how discrimination and racial attacks can only reinforce and prolong distrust and instability.

Tunnelen: an underdeveloped film of future dystopia as experienced by a generic family

André Øvredal, “Tunnelen” (2016)

Even something as seemingly innocuous and commonplace as driving to the seaside – and then getting stuck in peak-hour traffic on the way back home – becomes fodder for dystopian science fiction horror in Norwegian director André Øvredal’s short film “Tunnelen”. A family of four (Tom the father, Jeanette the mother, and Peter and Anne the children) is returning home in its self-driving car (which looks exactly like all the other self-driving cars on the multi-lane highway) and must go through a huge tunnel to get back into the city and home. Home is one of millions of rabbit-hutch apartments in a huge brutalist steel hive amongst all the hundreds of other steel hives bunched up together in the city. The tunnel is subject to periodic closures, none of which can be predicted (and thus planned for) in advance. While the slowly crawling traffic inches through the tunnel, our family sweats out the agonising time while the car moves silently along with other cars. Peter befriends a girl, Eva, in the car alongside theirs. Halfway through the tunnel, the lanes change around the family and Peter loses sight of Eva’s car. When the four are almost out of the tunnel, the traffic stops and huge metal shutters roll down, stopping just behind them so they lose sight of the car behind them. The family is then allowed to travel on to its home destination while the car that was behind it is stuck in the tunnel – arbitrarily chosen as part of a periodic population reduction.

The tension is very palpable in family members’ faces and in the increasingly agitated conversations they have. Jeanette desperately tries to keep Anne occupied with her artwork. The family – and all other families like it – sit helplessly in the huge phalanxes of black self-driving cars as they move slowly through the tunnel. The steel grey hues and black backgrounds of the film suggest a grimy, dismal existence for most people though our family and Peter’s new friend Eva look like stereotypically well-scrubbed Scandinavians.

While the actors put in good performances in roles limited by the demands and restrictions of the plot, ultimately the film looks sketchy and underdeveloped. We never really learn why the family must travel to the seaside resort and back again using a tunnel everyone knows is liable at any give moment to shut down and execute every single person trapped inside. Viewers must make their own judgement as to the type of government and political system existing in the world of “Tunnelen” that would willingly sacrifice citizens for a particular environmental ideology. We learn very little about the main characters themselves, what they have done and might continue to do that will put their lives and their children’s lives in jeopardy when they have to travel through the tunnel or cross over some other vital transport artery. “Tunnelen” could have done with a slightly longer treatment emphasising important issues of the day and exploring the consequences of people willingly giving up control over their lives and possessions to the authorities.

The film is based on a short story “The Tunnel Ahead” by Alice Glaser that was first published in 1961 and which explores the nature of human acquiescence to repressive totalitarian governments such as those of Germany and Italy under Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini from the 1930s to the present day. Perhaps if the film had taken on the themes and characters of that short story, it would have had more to say about the nature of the society in which Tom and his family live, how the family acquiesces in its repression and how its members, especially its children, suffer from that repression.

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