Director: Christopher Butler
Writers: Christopher Butler, Christopher Butler
Stars: Joanna Ignaczewska, Louis Labovitch, Akira Koieyama
If there’s one thing that the makers of The Scopia Effect can’t be accused of it’s a lack of ambition. Whereas most low budget science fiction films try to make the most of their limited resources by reducing their scope – relying on a small number of characters and settings – this does something rather different by having a plot that stretches across multiple historical periods and geographical locations. It attempts, in other words, to beat Cloud Atlas at its own game, despite only having about 1% of the money that was available to the Wachowski brothers for their not-as-good-as-the-novel-it-was-based-on 2012 production.
The downside of all this is that it’s not entirely able to keep a hold of its narrative, which is hard to follow at best and becomes increasingly incoherent as the running time progresses. Basia (Joanna Ignaczewska), a young woman suffering from depression, visits a psychiatrist (Louis Labovitch) who uses hypnosis to uncover the fact that she witnessed her mother kill herself as a child. However, she starts having flashbacks to other events, many of which can’t have occurred in her own lifetime: a young boy steals chickens in the middle ages, a Japanese fisherman from the nineteenth century tells his daughter a parable about caterpillars, a French peasant waits for his beloved wife to give birth, an Indian from 1641 travels to carry out a religious ritual with his wife. As she starts having lucid dreams which elucidate more about the tragic history of these characters, her grip on reality becomes ever more precarious.
I have the feeling that this is one of those films which is going to alienate an awful lot of people; let’s be honest, it’s often ponderously slow and achingly pretentious. However… for me it stands as one of the more interesting British science fiction films of recent years, with echoes of A Field in England and 2001 as well as the aforementioned Cloud Atlas. I can’t claim to understand what it’s trying to say – it’s something to do with reincarnation and with those darned allegorical caterpillars – but even though it has a hefty running time (over two hours!) it succeeded in keeping the interest. Director Christopher Butler manages to do a very capable job, juggling the assorted stories and coaxing better than average performances from the cast of largely unknowns. Although undoubtedly filmed in the home counties and featuring costumes that were probably borrowed from the local am dram society, the historical elements are convincing enough. More importantly it is shot with some imagination: there are a couple of disturbing sequences (in one shot Basia wakes up seemingly conjoined with a wall, with her head and arm merging into it) and the trippier hallucination scenes are put together with some imagination.