In a remote astronomical research facility, four scientists are locked in a room and given a series of numbers via a cryptic video from a deceased colleague, with which they must solve a problem within a matter of hours or the very world might come to an end.
Science fiction comes with a vast spectrum of plausibility for its concepts and execution, and one frequently played with is the idea of parallel realities. Unlike many examples of such films, Tangent Room is made without any flashy visuals or anything even resembling action, and is instead told entirely through dialogue.
The film starts off in a nondescript room, and bar infrequent flashbacks used to sketch out the thin characterisation of its quartet of protagonists, we never leave its four walls. The characters are each distinct individuals and bring different ways of thinking to the table, their varying intellects combining into one vast comprehension of the fundamentals of the universe that just might save it.
A setting like a small room would typically be utilised to invoke panic and claustrophobia, but since a large chunk of the film’s mere 65-minute runtime is devoted to first explaining what’s expected of the characters and then for them to take it seriously, there isn’t enough time for the required sense of anxiety to properly set in. That said, a degree of urgency is invoked by a gradually accelerating pace that culminates in a chaotic climax where the concept of multiple universes is played with to an amusingly anarchic extreme.
The hard science core of the story draws comparisons with Shane Carruth’s time travel headscratcher Primer, or with the positing of multiple universes as a starting point, James Ward Byrkit’s quantum reality mindscrew Coherence. Contrasting the practical application of those films, Tangent Room’s tale is entirely theoretical and relates its ideas through dialogue, but nevertheless remains just as compelling a mystery that you wish for the characters to swiftly get to the bottom of.
The story incorporates genuine models put forward by theoretical physics, and even though their abstract nature could very easily have become too complex for audiences to follow, the ideas are conveyed in such a way that neither talks down to the viewer nor attempts to baffle them with a smug sense of intellectual superiority and irritating condescension. It credits the viewer with enough intelligence to follow its progression with little more visual aid than the occasional basic chalk diagram sketched on a blackboard. Most significantly, we are thankfully spared a single explanation that calls for jabbing a pen through a piece of paper.
Tangent Room is a cerebral take on a popular sci-fi concept that is all the more compelling for its simplistic interpretation. In a market dominated by big-budget sci-fi, it shows that even the smallest of productions can still make an impact.
TANGENT ROOM / CERT: UNRATED / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: BJORN ENGSTROM / STARRING: LISA BEARPARK, JENNIFER LILA KNIPE, VEE VIMOLMAL, HAKAN JULANDER, DANIEL EPSTEIN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW