Friday, February 23, 2018

Philip K. Dick ’18: The Tolls (short)

Considered more of a historical urban legend than established fact, “Die Glocke” or “The Bell” was reported to be a National Socialist super weapon that combined Atomic research with occultism. It is a terrifying prospect if it actually existed—as it apparently does in an alternate dimension. Unfortunately, it will threaten the looming Allied victory in parallel realities as well in Liz Anderson’s short film, The Tolls (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Philip K. Dick Film Festival in New York.

Distraught over the presumed death of his wife Sadie, everyman GI Wes usually kills himself atop the Presidio overlooking the Bay. This time will be different, much to the surprise of Hans, a dimension-hopping SS officer, who is used to stepping over Wes’s body as he infiltrates the base. Instead, the grieving soldier pursues the German into the field of the German uber-reactor, jumping together into a world where Hitler was victorious. That is certainly alarming, but Wes soon discovers his Sadie is alive in this dimension, albeit married to a Nazi officer. He is in profound danger, as are other dimensions, but his Sadie seems to be the same person, with the same values.

The Tolls is a remarkably inventive time travel/alternate history film that actually holds some pretty mind-blowing implications when you think about it after the fact. Regardless, Anderson and her co-screenwriter-lead actor Wylie Herman squeeze an awful lot of narrative and sf speculation into a mere twenty minutes. This premise, along with these characters could easily sustain a full-length feature, but it would be hard to top the potency of the short film.

Herman is terrific as Herman, believably wrestling with some cosmic challenges, as well as some acutely human pain. As Hans, Anthony Cistaro (from Witchblade) again makes quite a suave and sinister villain. Plus, the Presidio Park locations really makes it all look big and cinematic.

The Tolls is way better than most of the time/interdimensional travel films that have recently come along, at least since Mi Yang rocked Reset. (The one exception would the equally excellent, but radically different Paleonaut, which also screens at the PKD Fest.) This is the kind of film that will fire up true genre fans, because it shows how much an inspired cast and crew can pull off when they work together on a nifty concept. Very highly recommended, The Tolls screens this Sunday (2/25), as part of Block Eleven: International Sci-Fi Shorts 3, at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival.