Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller, Drama.
Directed By: Henry Dunham
Starring: Chip Bent, Bret Porter, Edward Klein, Sarah Himadeh
Amongst the glitz and glamour of Wally Pfister’s Transcendence there was a basic but worrying reality: what happens when we cannot control artificial intelligence? While Transcendence didn’t quite achieve the critical heights that it was expected to, a large degree of solace can be found in the brilliant short film The Awareness, which shares much of the same plot; machine becomes sentient, man must destroy machine.
Released in early 2014, after writer/director Henry Dunham had sat on the idea until he was ready to put forward his vision, the film makes full use of its sci-fi subject matter. From the very start – where we’re introduced to Bent’s character, a janitor for a ‘tech start-up’ – to the end, each moment intertwines with another, foreshadowing what’s yet to come whilst calling back to what’s just happened.
The cinematic style is stark and beautiful, a harsh orange glow being cast over the darkly lit set. The way the computer screens ominously radiate in this dark space not only looks brilliant, but also highlights the idea that technology is slowly taking over and affecting every element of life.
Perhaps the best element here has to be the complete absence of special effects in any true sense. There’s stylish computer code used to represent the speech of the computer itself, but none of the chaos hinted at is shown on screen. It’s a great move, as nothing could ever equal the true horror that can be visualised by people’s imaginations when ‘the end’ comes to mind. Alluding visual terror allows us to focus on the human element.
The Awareness is a film that lives and dies by its very grounded human characters. The janitor is portrayed as overqualified for his job, and is desperately trying to reach a loved one by phone, to no avail. The technician seems cocky, yet with a hidden seriousness and regret underneath. And the most ‘human’ character of them all, the computer itself, is portrayed as conniving, cunning and clever, tricking the janitor into aiding it unwittingly. This leads to yet another interesting theme, as Bent’s janitor begins to think he’s destined to be something more, to save the world – only to become part of the problem. The human desire for success and recognition is something important to the film, but so is the reality that this is no fairy-tale, and that real-life is cruel.
Whilst the acting isn’t perfect, the actors try their best and the result is a fantastic short, and an absorbing science-fiction film. It’s a must see for fans of the genre.