Rosie (Lisa Ronaghan) and Ben (Joseph Baker) Whittaker are a young, financially challenged, married couple. On the verge of losing their house, they agree to participate in a week-long scientific experiment in the country. The aim of the experiment is to study and test the human survival instinct. The financial reward for successful completion of the week would solve their money problems.
Within two hours of a phone call they must arrive at a country house run by the mysterious Kenilworth Life Sciences. Before the ink is dry on the agreement they sign, they are thrust into the middle of an immediate logic / survival problem.
As the rest of the week takes shape they are separated, issued with dehumanising fatigues including gasmask and hood, and set to work on a series of physical tests and moral quandaries, all under the watchful eye of cameras and facilitator Beatrice (Chloe Massey). Gradually, the tasks begin to get nasty, escalating into a sort of Machiavellian competition that you might expect to its have roots in a Saw movie.
This low budget science-fiction thriller from director Tom Large and screenwriter Joseph Baker works very well initially, navigating its budgetary constraints to deliver an intriguing set up and ask both participants and audience some interesting questions of morality and conscience.
In the final act, the film subverts expectations and sets off on a wildly different track. It brings to mind the underrated The One I Love, as both movies successfully transition you from predictable territory into a volte face completely out of left field.
Bodies depends on the big third act plot reveal, so it would be irresponsible to divulge anything further about the story. However, it is safe to say that it is crafted with the same broad strokes as Duncan Jones’ existential lunar pondering Moon, and its genre-bending modus operandi would make it a fitting companion piece to Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead’s The Endless, released earlier this year.
But Bodies does lose its way in the second half, where it runs the risk of becoming overly complicated and delivers some exposition that feels a little too drawn out. Additionally, the sound design, used to compensate for special effects, is not always successful; pressure seal sounds on participants’ clearly unpressurised masks, for example, or industrial-type locking sounds on visibly unlocked doors.
It might also have helped to have more early emphasis on Rosie and Ben’s financial desperation in order to rationalise why they don’t walk away when the situation becomes extreme.
The cast is minuscule and although there is the odd occasion where the demands of the script might be a little outside of their range, leads Ronaghan and Baker acquit themselves nicely. Their non-heroic ordinariness serves the movie very well. While Chloe Massey is also good as the stern experiment invigilator Beatrice.
What Bodies does do well is in providing a nice bit of shoestring sci-fi that shows what can be achieved with a strong idea. The first half concerns itself with the indomitable human survival spirit, while the second tackles a more existential line of enquiry, asking similar questions to Blade Runner 2049 (although, to be clear, their similarities begin and end at a philosophical level). More than anything, it’s nice to see that having ideas bigger than your budget is no impediment to turning out a solid science-fiction genre piece.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10
‘Bodies’ will have its Australian premiere at the Fantastic Planet, Sydney Sci-Fi and Fantasy Film Festival 2017. Tickets available HERE.