A Helical short film review

★★★★

Written and directed by #MarcusMcMahon

Starring #MarcusMcMahon, #SannaKelly, #KeithChanter, #RobAkin

Short Film Review by Jack Bottomley




It continues to impress me how independent filmmakers over the decades keep raising bars and keep producing works of such ambition. Be they clearly of a low budget background or of a higher (but still small in the grand scheme of things) one; the resilience, talent and care put to many films - long or short - is continually inspiring and impressive and the quality continues to increase. So it is that I sat down to watch A Helical, a new sci-fi short from writer/director (and also star) #MarcusMcMahon which, as the title connotes, takes a spiral-like form in the mind as you are processing it. And as the film swirls round and round your cerebral corridors, you are awestruck, intrigued and maybe even a little confused or taken aback.


The plot centres on a man (played by McMahon) that travels to a mysterious planet, the strange inhabitants of which reveal more about his own subconscious than theirs. What follows is a rather abstract unblinkered piece of art, saturated with ideas of esotericism and jungian analysis. The very engrossing nature of the unconscious mind takes over and as A Helical takes you on its unusual journey, you cannot help but try and decipher it, get to grips with it and question it at every turn.


On a technical level, this is a breathtaking masterpiece. Immediately it reminds of films like Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, in its transportive and alluring aesthetic power, and its contemplative meanings. Feeling like an experimental and ambitious revisitation of a ripe and creative era in science fiction (late ‘60s to early ‘80s), it has a strong ‘70s feel throughout (both visually and ideologically) and the work of names like Bergman, Kubrick, Scott and Tarkovsky ring throughout its passages of long shot wonder and narrative ambiguity.

Some will look upon this as a work of immense complexity and deeply rewarding sci-fi beauty, others may become frustrated by its purposeful pace and identity. As industrial England is transformed into an otherworldly road into the mind and the very limits of what our subconscious has to offer, there is no doubt that the film does not give any easy answers and forces you to think about each and every aspect. The characters and dialogue, like the plot itself, are unclear and largely open to and welcoming of interpretation. As such this is a most stirring vision but not always a fully formed one. Whatever you think of its content, there is still much more to think on. However the most impactful mark is left by its audio-visual majesty, which empowers the film’s many depths.


The film is immaculately shot, with its lingering scenes capturing every aspect of the excellent imagery with such clarity and there are camera tricks at work here, which only make #MichalWisniowski’s remarkable cinematography (with drone work by #AlistairGillan) all the easier to get lost in. Likewise the magnificent score by #StephenRichardson, which is as much a character itself in the film as an atmosphere conjuring accompaniment, alongside the further roster of stretching landscapes, original structures and perfectly chosen locations. The great editing by #JonDean allows this dream-like procession of the images and sounds to be all the more intoxicating and McMahon’s direction (like his writing and central performance) leave no doubts that this film is very much a labour of love for the small but incredibly talented crew.


Hand on heart, I cannot say I fully understood it (few could from just a single viewing). It would be simply a big headed fib to say I did. However, this film leaves resonant waves in the mind and soul, and in time, I wonder what more I could possibly unpick or ascertain from it. This film has stayed with me upon viewing it (and will continue to do so), as has its beauty, atmosphere and power. A real achievement in independently made aesthetically astounding conceptual sci-fi.


I can see work like this being the excellent foundation of this Anglo-Irish filmmaking prodigy who, like his entire team, are assuredly set for some great things in the future.


#JackBottomley