RELEASE DATE: September 8, 2017
DIRECTOR: Keir Burrows
MPAA RATING: NR
RUNTIME: 106 minutes
A few years ago, there was a TV show called The Chair in which two filmmakers were given a script and the same resources and told to make a movie. They could rewrite it to fit their styles, and each had final cut privilege. What ended up happening was that two radically diverging products were made, judged by the viewing public.
Anti Matter feels like it was sewn together from a few different takes on the same story – some rather intelligent, some less so – and they don’t seem to know what the others are doing. Keir Burrows directs his screenplay with all the enthusiasm and flair one can muster and guides a capable cast through the proceedings, but the plot meanders around too much and relies on clichés and coincidences.
It starts out in that old movie tradition of young, plucky students stumbling upon the most monumental discovery in modern history. (I guess middle-aged bureaucrats in big labs are less photogenic.) Ana (Yaiza Figueroa), an American studying at Oxford, has been working on a research project with classmates Nate (Tom Barber-Duffy) and Liv (Philippa Carson). The big find? A wormhole – a mechanism through which matter gets transported from one location to another. Marbles, then Rubik’s Cubes, then small animals take the plunge, teleporting across the room. And then Ana herself.
The problems begin shortly thereafter. She’s forgotten big chunks of what happened since the experiment. Paranoia begins closing in around her. Can she trust anyone? Her research gets stolen. Nate and Liv are increasingly irritated with her, and they claim she did things that she has no memory of doing. What happened when she passed through the wormhole? And what will happen to her now that it all seems to be falling apart?
The answer to both of those questions is quite clever. The movie builds enough inherent momentum so that you happily keep up with the developments until the end. But Anti Matter is a victim of its own execution. Good scenes are juxtaposed with bad ones. A well staged sequence in which Ana’s apartment is burglarized starts with some well established dread, as she realizes that someone is in her apartment and rummaging through her stuff. But it’s ruined by a bad chase that ensues, shot in Earthquake Vision, that thing where filmmakers believe you can’t tell that there’s fast-paced action happening unless they shake the camera so much you don’t know who’s doing what.
There are many moments like that, where Burrows’ keen interest in complexly plotting a fascinating take on the idea of wormholes, is stymied by some groan-worthy pratfalls. It loses a lot of good faith that way. The last 20 minutes of the film, already elongated with circular dialogue and outlining, set up what could have been a climax revolving around a heavily parodied trope. (It would be a spoiler to elaborate any further). The movie avoids going there, but it’s not a good sign that you’re surprised and relieved when it does.
But when it works, you sit up and take notice. Figueroa is a fine actor who understands the details of her character – you can look at her in one scene and believe the sincerity of her emotions and then later on, when everything’s explained, she is as consistent as ever. Ana gets put through the wringer, backwards and forwards throughout the fabric of space and time, but it’s all in there. The quality of her performance is more proof that Anti Matter was made by talented people who could make a great movie if the script was better. They feel out the far-flung possibilities and limitless potential of the material.
The film is stylishly framed, lighted and edited to high heaven. Flashing screens! Blue tints! Match cuts! Yet when push comes to shove, there’s only lip service. The main characters talk about the magnitude of their discovery only in the sense that they say things like “This could change the world!” close to a dozen times or discuss how you could one day transport yourself to The Moon. The intensity of Ana’s confusion and memory problems is realized through an endless barrage of repetitive scene formulas. The ending wraps everything up but leaves you with the impression that there were easier, faster ways to get there.
Of course we need advantageous ideas like the one for this movie, with smart, original scenarios and the will to go to new places. But we also need good scripts that can do the material justice, and that’s where Anti Matter suffers.