Written and directed by Angad Aulakh, set against the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination and the era’s pervasive nuclear fears, Frank and his estranged mother-in-law, Sophia, must confront the strange and otherworldly realities of their fast-changing existence. Starring: Guy Kent and Marchand Storch.
Using any footage of President Kennedy is a sure fire way to set a satisfyingly nostalgic atmosphere, diving into The Atomic Dream you’re immediately thrown back to the 1960s. Although it only works when you then have the set decoration, costume and make-up to back that up, which this team certainly has. It was a great choice to keep the film contained within this one location, it sets the tone and its secluded feel feeds into the themes of the story. There’s a number of different clever decisions throughout the film but particularly how Angad Aulakh plays with genre in a really enjoyable manner. It taps at your curiosity with its mystery, then adds a note of comedy which then blends with its foray into fantasy and sci-fi.
Aulakh’s writing has a playful edge to it, especially choosing to include Sophia’s (Marchand Storch) furry friend which makes it impressive that it also manages to build a genuine tension. The two don’t always go hand in hand but it works really well here, it’s self-aware and is trying to create something fun without losing the feel of being authentic. It’s a tricky line to walk and many would have fallen into overtly silly or outlandish territory, but Aulakh brings through a solid taste of something more imaginative and fanciful without losing a grip on reality. It’s also a nice choice to explore the collective fear, or madness depending on your interpretation, of that era with the threat of nuclear war. How American’s had their minds warped by propaganda causing a mass hysteria, it creates a question of mental health, as well as our leading lady’s clear drinking habits. That question gives you doubts about what you should or shouldn’t take at face value, which is an entertaining place to be and it leads you exactly where you need to go with this story.
Introducing those questions are Guy Kent and Marchand Storch, creating the two sides of the coin, logic versus rumour and suspicion. Kent gives us that doubt, not simply giving in to the strangeness of what unfolds but trying to bring it back down to earth. While Storch gives us the wilder side, spouting her conspiracy theories and pushing you to write her off as a stereotype, while leaving open the possibility that she may not be wrong. The tension they create between them goes a long way to helping that grasp on reality, their conflict helps to balance out the more unusual elements to the story.
The Atomic Dream is a fun and entertaining blend of genres, transporting you to the 1960s with all its neuroses and nostalgia. It has tension and humour, it plays with conflict and conspiracy while adding an unusual edge. All of its different pieces work together in a satisfyingly smooth way, the time period is perfect for all of the notes to the story and its atmosphere. Guy Kent and Marchand Storch give performances that are both convincing and recognise the playful side to this story. It’s an enjoyably curious and unexpected watch.