26 Nov 2021
Tom England, Charlotte Ritchie, Ellila-Jean Wood, Joshua Ford
Working from his garage, a science lecturer assembles a machine capable of harnessing unimaginable forces. He soon realises he has bitten off more than he can chew, tinkering with technology he barely grasps whilst labouring under extreme emotional strain.
Throughout the film, Ryan struggles to articulate the brilliance of the apparatus, sometimes to unintentionally comic effect. At first, he is convinced that he has discovered ‘an infinitely complex amount of ‘noise’ sort of floating around us’ which, when filtered correctly, allows the user to communicate with the dead. Later he makes the impressive claim that his invention ‘rips a hole in reality’.
However, the back-of-an-envelope science is wedded to a solid plot that begins to guide the viewer to a different perspective on Ryan’s crazed antics. He and his partner Emily have recently lost their young daughter; the case is still under investigation by the police. The couple’s differing perspectives on the loss draw them apart, Ryan hopeful that Sam is just missing, Emily needing closure, even if this means accepting the worst-case scenario.
Ryan’s apparent discovery that after death our spirit doesn’t die seems like big news, but is his inability to come to terms with his grief colouring his interpretation of the data? And is Emily fixing on the finality of death in order to bury her own secrets and desires?
A sombre but glowing colour palette of grey skies, nice duffel coats, autumnal forests and twilit townscapes lends Repeat a Scandi Noir sensibility, while the hybridisation of the supernatural with elements of the police procedural evokes successful European series like Dark and The Returned, Thomas George’s quietly menacing soundtrack underscoring the action without distracting from it.
Tom England as Ryan gives a performance buzzing with an unstable energy. A bereaved father subsumed by a kind of techno-mysticism, his manner is that of a salesman desperate to believe his own spiel. Charlotte Ritchie’s Emily offers a more grounded presence with hints of an emotional brittleness close to splintering point. A strong and often witty script underpins a convincing portrayal of a couple still in love despite difficult and unusual circumstances.
As the story reaches its climax, the science goes insane. Now, the crucible at the heart of the experiment, a device resembling a minimalist Ikea Christmas wreath bound in copper wire, has quadrupled in size and all dials are set to maximum output. Once activated, it glows with the radiance of a hundred suns and we learn that, actually, ‘it doesn’t punch a hole to the afterlife, it creates a link to the past!’.
Yes, the film is about to wade into the sci-fi quicksand where the desire to travel back to the past in order to avert the future really screws with space-time. But the logic and momentum of the story just about bring the action over the line and Ellia-Jean Wood as Samantha is a convincingly disorientated victim of this risky practice.
With an ambition somewhat greater than its scope and budget, Repeat might have benefitted from turning down the (metaphorical) voltage, imbuing the tech hardware with a more ambiguous, metaphysical character, and creating more space to explore the psychological arena in which the acting and writing ensemble excel.
There is a lot to like about this film. Richard Miller’s direction is well-paced and keeps the tension building, pulling the strands of the story together in a satisfying conclusion. The couples therapist, as quoted by Emily, voices Repeat’s central dilemma: ‘Something has to change for us to break out of this loop.’
On UK digital 15 November.