Friday, April 22, 2016

Tribeca ’16: Warped Speed shorts

To this day, Esquire associate editor Alice Glaser might be the greatest one-hit wonder in science fiction. Her short story “The Tunnel” has been steadily anthologized since it was first published in 1961, but there were no follow-ups. Nearly sixty-five years after its initial pub, it has inspired the best science fiction film adaptation at this year’s Tribeca, most definitely including High-Rise. It screens as part of the Warped Speed block of sf short films programmed in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

André Øvredal’s The Tunnel (trailer here) shows us a future population control advocates could really get behind. After spending a lovely day at the beach, Peter’s family are driving back into Manhattan. Although they keep up appearances for the sake of his little sister, he is grown-up enough to understand how anxious they are about driving through the titular tunnel. Perhaps Logan’s Run fans might hazard a guess as to why. The randomness is supposed to be what makes it fair, but what we will see transpire is anything but.

Tunnel is a tight, emotionally heavy film that looks as good as any dystopian feature film. In terms of tone, it is lightyears removed from Øvredal’s prior feature, Troll Hunter, but it is just as technically adept. While it only runs twelve minutes including credits, Max Amundsen still makes quite an impression as the suddenly mature-beyond-his-years Peter.

Tim Egan’s Curve is also vaguely dystopian but more sketch-like in narrative terms. A young woman comes to, finding herself precariously balanced on the concave ledge of a futuristic aqueduct or who knows what. Egan’s visual backdrop is striking, but watching struggle in such a probably hopeless position is not exactly fun.

The other head-and-shoulders highlight of Warped Speed would have to be Romain Quirot’s The Last Journey of the Enigmatic Paul WR (trailer here). As the Red Moon hurtles towards Earth, only Paul WR’s one-man suicide mission can save the planet. However, he has driven off into the desert to wrestle with his doubts. That is about the only place he can think in peace, because Paul WR is cursed to hear the thoughts of every human in his general proximity. Even feature-length science fiction films often rely on one gimmick, but Enigmatic has a heck of a lot going on. Quirot also maintains a distinctively fatalistic vibe throughout.

The remaining three films largely deal with relationships through a speculative lens. As the shtickiest, Ben Rock’s Future Girlfriend is the least of the program. Mark Slutsky’s Never Happened is amusing but better suited as a piece for a sketch comedy show.

By far, the most substantial of the closing trio is Coralie Fargeat’s Reality+. Sad sack security guard Vincent Dangeville becomes the latest customer of the Reality+ chip. Once installed, the user and all other chip users see an idealized version of himself. Now he can party with the beautiful people, but only while its twelve-hour charge last. Of course, some of those beautiful people are probably also reaping the benefits of the chip. Fargeat’s ideas are quite well developed, but it is rather baffling that she seems to think Aurélia Poirier looks like a plain Jane neighbor. Still, Poirier manages to carry it off through acting, body language, and what-have-you.

Despite the thematic consistency (that could have been more consistent), Warped Speed is a typically uneven short film block. Still, The Tunnel, The Last Journey of the Enigmatic Paul WR, and Reality+ give viewers a solid fifty percent (or sixty-two percent if you calculate total minutes). Recommended on balance for fans of genre shorts, the Warped Speed program screens again this afternoon (4/22) and tomorrow (4/23) as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.