Described as a twisted “sci-fi noir” take on Alice in Wonderland, Keir Burrows’ Anti Matter is a thriller that draws on movie influences as diverse as The Fly, Memento and Flatliners to deliver an intriguing exploration of the themes of matter transference and of memory. Oxford PhD student Ana participates in an experiment to build an artificial wormhole, volunteering to pass through the prototype her small research team has built in the laboratory.
Ana is bemused when she wakes in her flat unable to remember how the transfer ended. She finds her colleagues (her will-we-won’t-we long-term friend Nathan, and acerbic goth geek Liv) are evasive and far from reassuring. To her growing disquiet, Ana finds herself unable to memorise new experiences and discovers that her life is sliding oddly out of kilter as she wrestles with a growing sense of disconnection from the world.
The first fifteen minutes of Anti Matter are a breathless sprint through technobabble, as Burrows sets up his premise and assembles the scientific trio. Little of this geeky gabble is important: even in low-budget, high-concept films part of the contract with the viewer is buying-in to an implausible conceit in order to enjoy the fun that follows. With the McGuffin let loose, Burrows slows the pace a little, allowing his character-driven drama room to breathe and skilfully building up an atmosphere of disquiet and disassociation.
Shooting in the early morning and late at night, Burrows makes good use of the underpopulated environments of the university for filming locations. He also inserts his cast and crew into a real-life political demonstration in the city to give his picture a sense of scale, for free. There’s also an unexpected, and quite impressive, chase sequence in which Ana pursues the mysterious figure who burgles her flat; an intruder who wears a creepy, bloodied monkey mask.
Much of the success of the film rests on Figueroa’s keenly judged performance as Ana, a high-flying researcher whose confidence disintegrates as she begins to doubt her sanity, and the honesty of those around her. As she struggles to uncover the truth, the audience share her experience of the break-up of linear time, of the blurring between dreaming and being awake, and of her unreliable recollections of the recent past. Carson is good too as the brilliant but blunt Liv (short for ‘Olivia’) who provides the technical inspiration and unsettles Ana further by ingratiating herself with her boyfriend-to-be. Yolanda Vazquez also delivers a sympathetic performance as Ana’s US-based mother, who worries, through a series of transatlantic phone calls, about her daughter’s disintegration.
Despite its daft premise, Anti Matter offers a cerebral and intelligent take on what is a genre perennial: something going amiss in a newly-developed matter transporter. There are plot strands that don’t really go anywhere (a GCHQ investigation into computer hijacking; video surveillance by weirdo police officers; animal rights conspirators), and the running time could do with a slight trim, but the core story delivers a well-rendered, slow-burn paranoia thriller, populated by recognisable characters, and with a strong concluding twist. All of that stuff works: and, in the end, that’s surely what matters.
ANTI MATTER / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENWRITER: KEIR BURROWS / STARRING: YAIZA FIGUEROA, PHILIPPA CARSON, TOM BARBER-DUFFY, NOAH MAXWELL CLARKE, JAMES FARRAR / RELEASE: UK RELEASE, TBC