For most people sci-fi means big-budget, special effects laden spaceship movies. Naturally, the discerning visitors to Sci-Fi-London know otherwise, given the eclectic mix of films shown at the festival. Radiant, written and directed by Texan Steve Mahone, is an intelligent movie, filled with ideas and concepts rather than superficial special effects. It is a movie about survival, and fear of the unknown.
The story starts with a voice-over explaining the work of a scientist, Dr Teller Blackpoole, who is developing a new, genetically modified super-virus. Not one that kills humans, but one that destroys harmful viruses. Unable to get major backing for the research, he gets private funding and withdraws to the desert to continue his work, alone. He enlists five volunteers, each with an incurable and undiagnosable disease to act as test subjects. One of these volunteers, Ed, who narrates the story, has been put in charge of testing each new batch of the virus on dogs in a distant barn, to observe the results and dispose of the bodies in failed attempts. The government, in its usual short-sighted wisdom, wants the research stopped, so sends in troops to remove all the research material and destroy the labs. The four patients escape with a case of the last batch of the virus, but become infected with it during the escape attempt. When they arrive at Ed’s barn, they encounter him in his haz-mat suit, and he tells them of his observations of the virus’s detrimental effects. Now they have to decide whether to be captured by the government or run. They choose to retreat into the desert, not knowing what will happen to them. The movie follows their journey.
The movie is shot on Digital Video, and makes no attempt to disguise the fact. In fact, in a lot of scenes it is deliberately made to look purposely interlaced. Some may say it gives it a more documentary feel, although it tends to look more like CCTV surveillance footage. Other times it develops a surreal, dreamlike appearance that serves the mood of the story well, especially in the stunning locations, which have a mystery and foreboding all of their own.
There is not a lot of spoken dialogue in the movie, but the voice-over of Ed recounting the story as it unfolds, lends it a literary mood. This works really well with the film’s pacing, which may be a bit slow for some tastes, but it captures well the sensation of being in the desert and heading into the unknown. The further into the desert they go the more fevered and slightly delirious the narration comes. However, there is one particular light moment of conversation, when they are talking about the Fantastic Four, which serves as a marked contrast to Ed’s recollections. The sparseness of dialogue can make it hard to invest in the characters, but as movies are more about showing, than telling, the empathy is achieved through their actions, which is helped by the limited number of characters.
Unfortunately, at the moment, the film is only doing the festival circuit, although may possibly get a DVD release. But if you like a film with a bit of substance, that is open to various possible interpretations beyond the blatantly obvious, then it is definitely worth seeing if you get the chance. It has been compared to Primer, from this year’s Sci-Fi-London, which should give you some indication of the type of film it is.
The director is currently in pre-production of a new film, details of which can be found at www.silomedia.net.