Fantasia: S.U.M.1 (2017)

SUM1.jpg

Studio:       Global Screen
Director:    Christian Pasquariello
Writer:       Christian Pasquariello
Producer:  Siegfried Kamml, Timm Oberwelland, Christian Alvart
Stars:     Iwan Rheon, Andre M. Hennicke

Review Score:


Summary:

In a world overrun by aliens, a soldier sent to guard a remote outpost comes to suspect the creatures might not actually exist.


Synopsis:     

Fantasia Film Festival Review:

57 years have passed since an alien race dubbed “the nonesuch” overran the planet, killing 95% of the population.  The nonesuch are so dominating, survivors driven underground live in constant fear that to even lay eyes on one of the creatures assures certain death.

It is possible to visit the surface where humanity once flourished.  But there is a catch.  Common men must train as soldiers and sign on for a 100-day tour of duty, acting as solitary outpost guards monitoring their designated perimeters for hostile activity.  Any stubborn human stragglers encountered are to be directed toward forced refuge underground.

Dispatched as an emergency replacement after his ill predecessor is evacuated, Private S.U.M.1 arrives at Outpost Cerberus to do exactly that.  Lonesome days are filled by following an identical itinerary of doing drills, eating rations, smoking a single cigarette, and reporting to HQ every 12 hours.

Barely three weeks into his term, SUM1 begins suspecting he isn’t alone at the remote forest bunker.  HQ assures him there is no nonesuch activity in his area.  Birds nailed to trees and a furtive shape in the woods suggest otherwise.

Paranoia joins hands with cabin fever once SUM1 uncovers clues inferring command may not be telling the whole story.  Why does the government want everyone underground?  Why isn’t SUM1 permitted to contact other outposts?  What really happened to Cerberus’ previous guard?

As SUM1 digs deeper, he wonders if he has cracked a conspiracy almost impossible to believe.  SUM1 starts doubting if nonesuch even exist at all.  And his unraveling mind has him ready to do whatever it takes to finally uncover the truth.

With punch-in-the-nose names like “SUM1” and “nonesuch,” writer/director Christian Pasquariello obviously isn’t making an effort to disguise his allegory of Everyman vs. Imagination.  Like any isolation-based thriller, “S.U.M.1” gets its juice from the “is it all in his mind or is it really happening?” question that comes with an unreliable narrator suffering from the stress of solitary confinement.

Unlike “The Thing” or even “It Comes at Night” (review here), “S.U.M.1” is more about the tangible mystery than the intangible paranoia. 

Whereas similar setups amplify psychological dread or claustrophobic tension, the subtle suspense in play here comes from figuring out the fiction and arriving at hard answers.

In the role of SUM1, “Game of Thrones” fans get to see Iwan Rheon, who played Ramsay Bolton on HBO’s hit series, as an easily rattled military rookie instead of an overconfidently sneering sociopath.  Rheon is as engaging as the script allows, which is enough to hold minimal attention.  However, it isn’t enough to create an exceptionally memorable character.  That’s a problem given that SUM1 is literally the title attraction.

SUM1 embodies his name too well by being so much of an open-ended anybody, he doesn’t have a magnetic identity to hook into.  We know nothing about him, and have nearly no incentive to invest in his ultimate outcome.

SUM1 then runs into the common problem that men in such movies often do by mainly having only himself and disembodied voices to interact with.  It’s thus a long slog of intentionally repetitive scenes to establish his daily cycle of mundane doldrums.  “S.U.M.1” predictably jumps such hurdles by conveniently giving SUM1 a pet rat to talk to, as these movies almost always include a ‘Wilson,’ so space isn’t completely occupied by uneventful silence.

The bigger bump “S.U.M.1” hits is that a feature-length film is too wide a frame for this particular one-man show.  With its single interior set and modest CGI effects, the movie feels like an extended episode of the 1990s “Outer Limits” revival.  As SUM1’s routine repeats and intertitles count down 100 days in increments from one to a dozen, the slowed speed sends a sense that identical ground could be covered in half the time as a single TV episode just the same.

Tasking the straightforward story to do more work than its scope can handle results in slow burn sci-fi without the ammunition to keep its entertainment artillery locked and loaded.  Scenery has a gritty sheen and the story has enough intrigue to get “S.U.M.1” going.  Iwan Rheon also has the screen presence to keep pushing the plot forward.  But admirable low-budget ambitions run short on unique ideas to maintain 90 minutes worth of momentum.

With an endgame like this movie has, the stakes need to be higher for the resolution to hit harder.  “S.U.M.1” comes out a touch too much like its namesake: as indistinguishable as any interchangeable peer standing alongside it.

Review Score:  55