A surprisingly solid sci-fi from newcomer Richard Mundy, which may prove to be one of this year’s best indie gems.
Maybe I’m just a sucker for science-fiction and horror (having spent my formative years watching films like The Thing and Pitch Black), but I really enjoyed Twenty Twenty-Four. I’m sure some people will write it off as nothing more than a cheap shlockfest given that it was shot on the budget of a stale ham sandwich and because they were too busy watching Insidious: Chapter 48. But the fact of the matter is that despite the microscopic budget of £20,000, the film managed to do what few mainstream horror blockbusters with over 50 times that budget have done in the past few years: keep me from lapsing into unconsciousness and, more importantly, scare me.
The premise, however, is really nothing new. In fact you’ve probably heard it so many times by now that you can sing it; scientist Roy (Andrew Kinsler) is an ‘undertaker’ charged with maintaining Plethura- an underground bunker built in preparation for the impending nuclear apocalypse. However after an unexplained incident, Roy is trapped inside the bunker with nothing but his thoughts and a text monitor dubbed ‘Arthur’ for company. And as time crawls by, Roy begins to question both the reality of his situation and whether or not he’s truly alone.
As uninspired as it may sound, the plot gradually acquires depth the further we go into it. Writer/director Richard Mundy takes a cookie-cutter premise and makes it his own, turning it into a rather unique psychological horror. Intrigue builds as clue after clue is found and we discover, as Roy does, that something is seriously wrong. Kinsler fits the role like a glove. We feel every last bit of his frustration, isolation, anguish and sometimes even pain. In fact often to quite an unsettling degree. Early on in the film, some of his delivery is a little wooden, not helped by the rather sententious dialogue about how mankind is doomed. But given that this man has literally lived alone in this bunker for some months, it’s no surprise that he feels lost when it comes to conversation. Besides, these musings are soon halted and the film gets down to doing what it does best, namely keeping you on the edge of your seat.
It could be argued that a couple of subplots aren’t really elaborated or explored, such as when the bunker’s computer begins wondering whether or not it has a consciousness; while this is a little frustrating, the loose ends are all par for the film’s course. Much like Roy, we are left in the dark a great deal of the time, experiencing only what he does. And all those little strands of story and information each contain a different explanation for what’s going on and why everything is happening; each conclusion just as viable as the last. Time and time again I thought I understood what was happening, and time and time again my expectations were defied.
Despite the film’s vestigial budget, the cinematography is very impressive and the sets all feel authentic. In the grand tradition of science fiction, the production design is as much of a character as any of the actors. A lot of time and care was obviously taken to make the sets, and it pays off. The camerawork is equally great, feeding the tangible atmosphere almost as much as Kinsler’s performance does. Images of desolate corridors and claustrophobic rooms mirror the repetitive, mindless and often oppressive nature of Roy’s existence; the use of lighting is worthy of mention in the same breath as the original Alien. I’m not kidding.
A lot of what I’ve praised may still sound like familiar ground, but while the sources of inspiration and homages to other sci-fi classics are clearly there, Twenty Twenty-Four never feels remotely derivative or overshadowed by something much better. Some parts of it aren’t perfect, but for the most part, it’s an enjoyably original concept that successfully delivers both tension and intrigue. And in an age where films that aren’t exactly known for their abilities in that department, isn’t that sometimes enough?
Twenty Twenty-Four (2016), directed by Richard Mundy, featured as part of the Southampton International Film Festival. More information about the festival including tickets and screenings can be found here.