Sitting down to watch an ultra low-budget genre film from a first time feature filmmaker always feels something of a lottery. More often than not, sad to say, you wind up with something that really wasn’t worth anyone’s time, and it’s liable to leave you feeling either resentful or sympathetic to the individuals who put so much of their time and energy into it. On occasion, though, a few of your numbers come up and you find yourself with a winner on your hands; not a huge winner, necessarily, but something that shows signs of a genuinely skilled cast and crew at work, limited by the means at their disposal, yet with enough creativity and vision for that not to matter too much. This is certainly the case with Anti Matter, the debut feature from writer-director Keir Burrows.
Ana (Yaiza Figueroa) is a post-graduate physics student at Oxford, and as part of her studies she is… okay, I’m going to stop right here. There is a whole lot of complex science talk in Anti Matter, and speaking as someone who only got a D in GCSE science, I’m happy to confess that a great deal of it goes right over my head. However, much as one doesn’t necessarily need to understand, say, all the intricacies of real estate sales to be caught up in the tensions of Glengarry Glen Ross, so it is that you can appreciate the drama of Anti Matter without being up to speed on all the whys and wherefores of modern science. Not that I’m suggesting Burrows is in the same league as David Mamet. But I digress.
As I was saying: Ana’s post-graduate studies take an exciting turn when, quite by accident, she stumbles upon what appears to be a means of teleporting matter. She enlists her friends Nate (Tom Barber-Duffy) and Liv (Phillipa Carson), and together the students are beyond thrilled to find their technique works; but, as they’re naturally eager to keep their discovery to themselves, and their methods are not exactly legal, the experiments are carried out in secret. After starting out teleporting small inanimate objects, they gradually work their way up until living creatures is the next logical step, and so – taking care to avoid the attention of the mobs of protesters outside, demanding an end to animal testing in the university’s science labs – they start sneaking in rats, cats and the like. You know what’s next; it’s time to try putting a person through. And, as anyone who’s seen The Fly can tell you, teleportation experiments don’t always work out so well for human test subjects.
As much as microbudget filmmaking is always a risky proposition, science fiction can be a particularly tricky one given how often the genre hinges on special effects. Anti Matter, thankfully, is more driven more by ideas than visuals, and builds the drama through keeping you guessing; although, as microbudget goes, it’s still a handsomely shot affair, making effective use of the picturesque Oxford University setting. Plot-wise, the film’s PR likens it to Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, and while it’s not quite such a success Anti Matter does indeed work to similar effect, building in intrigue, suspense and paranoia as the running time progresses. After her teleportation experience, Ana knows things aren’t quite the same; she finds herself unable to recall events that have occurred since the experiment, and feels strangers watching her everywhere. The question is, how much of it is just in her head?
While Anti Matter may invite comparisons to Pi and, to an extent, Christopher Nolan’s Memento, I find myself most reminded of Mike Flanagan’s Absentia, inasmuch as both films are driven primarily by intellectual discussions of abstract concepts, all of which might have fallen flat in the hands of a less capable director and cast. As stated, much of the science talk can often feel like indecipherable babble to layman’s ears, but Figueroa, Barber-Duffy and Carson make it all sound natural enough that it’s easy to get swept up in it all. Given the strengths Flanagan has gone to since making the move to bigger budget productions, I certainly hope Anti Matter opens the door for Burrows to progress in a similar fashion.
This is not to say that everything in Anti Matter is entirely successful. There’s a love triangle subplot which seems a bit superfluous and never entirely convinces, and a few sidesteps into action territory – a parkour rooftop chase, a wall-climbing break-in, and a bit of final act gun violence – feel like they belong in a different movie altogether. Much the same can be said for Noah Maxwell-Clarke’s eccentric copper, seemingly an attempt at comic relief which doesn’t pay off. It’s also fair to say that, after all the intrigue and build-up, the conclusion isn’t quite so surprising or effective as we might like. Even so, there’s more than enough in Anti Matter that works for it to be worthwhile viewing, and with any luck a great calling card for Keir Burrows, a filmmaker from whom I think we can expect big things in years ahead.
Anti-Matter is available on UK DVD now from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment.