Written, directed and lead by Marcus McMahon, a lone traveller from another dimension, arrives on a familiar yet mysterious planet. Starring: Keith Chanter, Sanna Kelly, Rob Akin, Romel Onuoha, Alan Sharp and Youssouph Bathily.
The opening of A Helical is reminiscent of Tron with its glowing neon against a black background and 80’s style electronic score. While it may reflect a style that been around for decades, it’s nonetheless effective in drawing you in, by now we’re all aware that type of score means there’s something mysterious in store. It’s a perfect set up to segueing into a fantastic drone shot that takes in the landscape beautifully and takes full advantage of its ominous setting as it slowly makes its way to meet the traveller (McMahon). There’s also the great choice of wardrobe for the character which adds to that initial ambience, men in very high turtle neck sweaters always hold a strange air and the whole ensemble feels like it could have come from any decade in the last 40-years, pushing that ambiguity and mystery.
As the film moves forward and we come across ‘The Great Head’, a floating statuesque head, portrayed by Chanter with a booming voice full of authority and wisdom, the kind that should be recording audiobooks. The whole scene feels reminiscent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and their quest to find the meaning of life, which is something that resonates with the film as a whole and is one of many moments that feel like homages to some of cinemas iconic sci-fi. It’s also one of several great performances in the film, alongside McMahon’s lead who’s portrayed in a manner that is very robotic and cold on the outside while being able to see the curiosity, loneliness and almost desperate need to find answers on the inside. There are a couple of performances that don’t work quite as well, the Mother character pushes a little too much into the mystery and one of the gang members in the later scenes doesn’t quite live up to his counterparts in a trying moment, the easiest way to describe it might be akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger with no protective gear on Mars in Total Recall, minus the grotesque effects.
It’s quickly very clear that the director and cinematographers (Alistair Gillan, Michal Wisniowski) worked extremely well together, the film goes hard on the aesthetics and provides seamless transitions from one fantastic shot to another. However, the impressive thing is that despite the slight vague nature of the story and very strong focus on the visual elements, it never takes away from the journey of the film, it only pulls you further in. Often films that put too much emphasis on getting a good looking shot, forget about the actual content but McMahon avoids that pitfall well. It also plays on different genres without landing firmly on one, it balances sci-fi and thriller with a touch of horror and completely sidesteps pigeon-holing itself.
McMahon proves in this directorial debut that he has a fantastic eye, providing a host of atmospheric shots to pair perfectly with his mysterious story. It begins on an ominous note and draws you in to the point that the act of simply introducing another physical person, adds a huge layer of suspense. It’s stunningly shot and full of mystery, it has unbelievable production value, well used effects and the entire thing feels like a metaphor for our endless thirst for knowledge and answers to age old questions.