After a perplexing prologue set in 1952 whose purpose is never adequately justified, Somnus’ story leaps forward 300 years onto the future and aboard a space freighter mid-journey. The pilots discuss their lives and work, while on the lower decks the mechanic talks cod philosophy with the ship’s AI, while it undergoes an existential crisis and develops its own plans for where the ship should be heading. And there just might be something undesirable hidden in the cargo hold.
Somnus is clearly a labour of love for all involved; the personal dedication with which it has been put together is made apparent throughout. It’s just a shame that the end result is such a disappointment.
A lot of thought and creativity has gone into the design of the spaceship interiors, from the tidy cockpit of blinking lights, colourful screens and endless switches and dials whose purpose can only be imagined, to the cramped engineering tunnels of pipes, valves and hatches, far less pretty to look at but still as vital to the ship’s operation. With such visual creativity on display, it’s a shame that the story doesn’t match it.
Somnus dearly wants to be 2001: A Space Odyssey and lifts ideas wholesale to such an extent that you could be forgiven for thinking you might be watching an inept low-budget remake. Making a homage to a classic sci-fi film is one thing; being blinded in supplication to one of the most revered achievements in the history of cinema and somehow botching the entire exercise into a garbled assortment of barely linking events is quite another.
Aside from Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus, references and influences abound from sci-fi movies of decades past such as Alien, Dark Star, Solaris, Silent Running and even Wrath of Khan, variously encompassing the plot, set design, shot choices, visual aesthetic and music, welded together in the desperate hope a coherent narrative will somehow coalesce from the assembled fragments. Sadly, one does not, leaving nothing but frustration at the wasted potential on display.
As a majority of the film’s budget clearly went on the set design, things get even more ropey in the film’s final segment that takes place off the ship, events descending into a nonsensical borderline farce that, quite frankly, would not seem out of place in an episode of Red Dwarf.
It’s entirely possible that Somnus has something profound to say, it just doesn’t make it clear what this might be, nor does it try hard enough to properly explain exactly what is supposed to be going on, or why it is.
SOMNUS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: CHRIS READING / SCREENPLAY: CHRIS READING, RUSSELL OWEN / STARRING: MARCUS MCMAHON, CULLUM AUSTIN, ROHIT GOKANI, MERYL GRIFFITHS, MAC MCDONALD, VICTORIA OLIVER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (VOD), JANUARY 2ND (DVD)