Directed by: #GlennMcAllenFinney
Addressing the alarming prospect of rising pollution levels and climate catastrophe, Project 444 is an ambitious sci-fi short film that draws inspiration from classic dystopian movies, yet in its dialogue, acting and plot development it unfortunately falls somewhat short.
There are several stages to Project 444’s opening. It begins with a long quote from Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve, warning how capitalist success comes at the expense of natural resources and the climate; should we progress in this manner, de Duve cautions, we are not only ruining the world for future generations, but potentially causing extinction for humankind. Following that quote comes a documentary-style montage on old-fashioned film-reel, tracing nature’s pollution by humankind. This short seeks to build upon de Duve’s unsettling words, through exploring this path of destruction a few decades down the line. Hence, we are placed in 2039, though not before some more opening exposition: “The world is in turmoil. Pollution is ruining air, water & soil faster than ever”. So far, so urgent. Then, after some ultra-stylish opening credits, we are finally placed into the action: a man (Lee Riordan) sleeps in the back of a moving car at night, but the scene is dominated by a radio DJ setting out once more the context of environmental hazard.
As is perhaps clear, Project 444 works very hard to establish its vital message and immerse the viewer in its dystopian context. After this protracted opening, we are more than ready for a story which elaborates on humanity’s struggle with pollution in a gripping and insightful way. However, the way it does so is surprisingly indirect, focusing purely on attempts to create androids to take our place in the forthcoming battle to reverse humanity’s destruction of nature. Strangely, environmental turmoil is never evident beyond this opening exposition and the occasional explanation via in-film TVs. The plot is confined to just a few rooms: the lab of Jeff the scientist (James Kerr) as he works on android T1M (Lee Riordan) under his boss’ (Tommy Castleman) supervision, a lecture hall where they reveal their results, and the living room of a couple (Kelly McCormack, Micky Ocean) who found the escaped, sleeping android and drove him home. Time is of the essence for the latter to act appropriately and salvage the scientists’ plans.
Perhaps it is indicative of the gap between the ambitions and budgetary limitations that director Glenn McAllen-Finney had, but Project 444 never builds on the opening context with much depth or drama. Compared to the alarming set-up, the plot feels slightly underpowered. The storyline’s two strands – the couple contemplating what to do with T1M, and the scientists’ path to creating it – are interweaved in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth across years. However, this progression is disorienting and doesn’t come together in the exciting way we hope for, as the choice of narrative climax feels somehow misjudged. Unfortunately, Project 444’s main failing is that the storytelling never lives up to the seriousness of its subject matter. While it does have nods to The Terminator, with its cool android concept, and Blade Runner, with its saxophone-heavy soundtrack, it is hampered by a ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’ approach, as well as some occasionally kitschy dialogue and acting. This approach continues right to its finale, which resorts to merely explaining what happens via narration.
Project 444 worthily takes on the issue of rising pollution and environmental catastrophe to create an ambitious sci-fi short film, yet the subject matter never quite gels with its slightly inert android plot and low budget film-making style.