Hatched from the imaginative minds at Future Artists, Portal is a surreal, mind-provoking drama about a drug branded Portal that allows the host to escape their mundane, boring, everyday lives and enter their own virtual reality. It induces a medically-induced coma, and whilst you’re unconscious the drug allows your mind to live out a whole new reality of your choosing, remaining there for as long as you can afford it. Portal allows you to become anything you ever wanted to be, live out your deepest, wildest fantasies and desires at any point in time and space, becoming the portal to escape your own reality. Due to greedy, beneficial forces, the drug has become banned and is relegated to street use, and one day ex-convict John (Clay Whitter) becomes involved in that world.
The idea of fulfilling your own fantasies in dreams or coma states has been touched upon many times before in science fiction, with prominent examples being The Matrix and Total Recall, where dreams become a person’s reality. Both Mark Ashmore and Jack Casey are clearly in love with those ideas, and they’ve cleverly used them in a story that is gritty and edgy, whilst also being playful, seedy, trashy, and a little bit sleazy, all adding up to a subversive sci-fi psychological thriller of interlacing realities. What’s remarkable is that they’ve attempted to ground those sci-fi inflected ideas and concepts into a modern, realistic suburban world we can all recognise in everyday life rather than the typical technological, near-futuristic world. This can also be seen in comparative terms with Under the Skin, which too dealt with a surreal sci-fi tale in a normal everyday environment, mixing the fantastical with reality, and that is pretty much the case here.
Whilst there are interesting and intriguing ideas to be found, there’s also a lot on the surface and it’s visually striking to look at. Craig Porter, the Director of Photography, seems determined to get the visuals right, and he certainly has an artistic sensibility about him. He perfectly captures the naturalistic desaturated vibe of the suburban surroundings, whilst making the virtual reality sequences very vibrant with an over-saturated colour palette of reds, pinks and whites. As far as the performances go, both Clay Whitter and Victoria Connett give perfectly solid performances, but it’s Chelsea Edge who you’re immediately drawn to. She perfectly embodies the sultry femme fatale, playing the part with a cool confidence and allure about her, drawing you into her world with her beautifully hypnotic eyes and teasing us for bigger things to come for her character.
It’s not without its faults however; the VFX shot at the beginning looks like something out of a computer game and feels out of place with the rest of the drama. Plus, you do feel as though you are watching a small part of a film that has been cut down into segments, and the ending of this episode felt less like a cliff-hanger and more like a stopping point. But these are minor inconveniences compared to the positives to be found here. This first chapter in the Portal series perfectly sets up what is could be an intriguing psychological sci-fi drama that is enigmatic, enticing and very surreal and strange. Plus, it benefits from good concepts, striking visuals and solid performances with special plaudits going to Chelsea Edge. The fact that all this has been achieved by an independent production company in Manchester makes Portal something truly remarkable entirely.
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