The opening scenes of Anti Matter, the feature-length debut from Keir Burrows, are extremely dense with scientific discussion that borders on Shakespearean impenetrability. PhD student, Ana (Yaiza Figueroa) toils every day on her science project alongside her Oxford University crush, Nate (Tom Barber-Duffy) and stroppy hacker friend, Liv (Philippa Carson). Coming up for air and away from their steel-plated technobabble is difficult; it can almost be off-putting. However, it does, admittedly, serve a purpose. This is their everyday lives, which, to the outsider, looks exceedingly dull indeed. And then the trio make a breakthrough; they manage to create a wormhole. Things certainly get a little less dull after that.
As their experiment grows, it’s agreed that to acquire further funding they’ll need to prove the wormhole’s safety for human use. In deciding who will volunteer for potential human sacrifice, Ana literally draws the short straw. She steps into their machine, buttons are pressed, the screen fades to black and the only hint of success is the sound of the trio’s jubilant cheers. The next day though, nursing a hangover, Ana quickly feels like all is not well. There’s large gaps in her memory and when she approaches Nate and Liv for an explanation they’re largely dismissive of her. Nate, who was originally showing signs of wanting to date Ana, acts like a distracted parent having to continually explain things to a child. Liv, meanwhile, appears to have quickly developed a deep dislike of Ana that shows itself in spiteful comments or passive aggressive asides. Both refuse to talk further about the experiment, chastising Ana and telling her to trust them more.
Burrows, who also wrote the screenplay, doesn’t just stick to Ana’s issues with her colleagues. Seemingly wishing to torture his protagonist, he also throws some other spanners in the work: one in the shape of the GCHQ closing in on her legally dubious wormhole project and the other in the shape of a masked thief who assaults Ana at her home. This leads to one of the more engaging aspects of the film, as Ana’s idea of who the assaulter was is shaped by her own paranoia. Liv, Nate, a police officer, a sneering animal rights protestor; they all fall under her suspicion as she spirals dramatically downwards.
There’s a confidence to the film that makes Anti Matter feel like a low budget Christopher Nolan piece as we follow Ana trying to recoup her lost memories. This isn’t just a paranoid sci-fi thriller, it’s a film that belatedly asks us to question our identity of self. When you believe you’re behaving perfectly naturally, and everyone else is keeping you at arm’s length, who is truly in the wrong? Her relationship with her mother adds some much-needed emotion to the narrative, as Ana struggles to explain to her the feeling of emptiness that now resides in her. Burrows’ decision to make Ana a foreign student further adds to the alienation felt by our lead. There’s a truly heartbreaking moment when mum refuses to continue their calls as Ana has not given a previously agreed upon password, a password now forgotten. It’s not so much Ana’s distress that hurts, but watching her mother look so desperate to help her daughter and yet be completely helpless.
Often in low budget films, you must take the rough with the smooth, and Anti Matter is no exception. Performances are a mixed bag and whilst our trio of scientists handle the dialogue well, some decisions made by a couple of the side characters will really take you out of the scene. The film’s conclusion is also a little anticlimactic after the well-crafted tension that Burrows has built up for over an hour. The film wraps itself up a little too quickly and there’ll be some who will find the explanation to Ana’s plight somewhat lacking.
Despite the rushed ending however, Anti Matter is still a satisfying experience because of Burrows’ ambition in scope and his desire to dissect our own thoughts on what makes us who we are. A solid debut, Anti Matter bodes well for Burrows’ next feature.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10