Sci-Fi London Film Festival: Domain – Review

In a dystopian future, humanity is living underground in individual, one room bunkers, to outlive the disease that’s razing humanity on the surface. In small groups of seven, the survivors communicate through an interface where they can group chat and build relationships. But there are pressures living underground, and when one of their number becomes unbearable, they breach the system and exclude him from their group, which starts off a chain of events.

Isolated from all but each other, the tensions within the group are drawn to the fore, and we can only watch as they go through their routines which are all they have to keep them sane. And we can only watch when things start to go wrong and someone starts to kill members of the group one by one.

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What’s really going on? How can someone be entering their cells without catching the disease outside? Is it all some sick revenge for kicking out their group member? Have they been lied to? And who’s next?

Although each character is clear and distinct, a thing that you don’t often find in small, indie films of this nature, the main protagonist is Phoenix (Britt Lower), a young woman who carries a picture of her mother, who she misses terribly. She has a strong bond with Denver (Ryan Merriman), a warm and caring man, and who has slowly developed romantic feelings for her, over the course of time. The two plan to be together when the bunkers are safe to open. As you can probably tell, each character is named after the city they are from, though some members who are closer have, over the five years they’ve been there, developed enough of a bond to share their actual names with other.

The appointed leader of the group is Boston (William Gregory Lee), who tries to keep everyone democratic and calm, encouraging voting on any decisions that might need group approval. However, as chaos descends on the group, he loses his leadership role as Phoenix and Denver tend to make lone decisions and hack into systems to try to find out what’s happening elsewhere in the facility.

The other character of note is Atlanta, played by Sonja Sohn, who some of you will recognise from The Wire.

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On the whole, the film sets an interesting premise, and doesn’t suffer from the usual low budget film errors. The cast feels quite genuine and give fairly natural performances all round. It avoids any sci-fi or dystopian future cliches and the dialogue feels mostly very realistic. The set design is great, and the way that the exposition of how they lived down underground in these bunkers was fitted into the dialogue or visuals really well. The film is well thought through, so you’re not brought up short by any obvious mistakes or holes in the logic of the basic premise.

As the mystery deepens and the plot thickens, it’s evenly paced. For some reason this film felt to me more like a mystery than a thrill ride. I was expecting it to be more nerve-wracking, more of a haunted house style kill fest, but it’s more of an unravelling of the psyche and a mystery, a thriller not a horror story. And on the whole, it works quite well. You wonder what’s going on with different characters, who is telling the truth, and who knows something they’re not telling. Some of the characters are kind of menacing, others are more sympathetic, and often they turn out to be not at all what you’d expect in the end, which is great.

On the whole, it still has that slightly unpolished indie feel to it, and the actors, though not lacking talent, do not all exhibit their break through, career making performances. But as far as smaller films go, it’s a very decent entry to the sci-fi genre, and has some entertaining twists and turns along the way, and avoids the cliches I hate so much. Perhaps one for you sci-fi thriller lovers to look out for.

Sci-Fi London Film Festival Screens is playing now. 
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