Written and directed by Saalih Chaudhry, co-written by Ausama Salim, fifteen-year-old Isaac Owino going through adolescence struggles to deal with the difficulties of living with his drug addict mother yet things take a sudden turn in Isaac’s life when an anonymous package is delivered to his door. Starring: Elliott Toby, Ben Hall Jr., Camile Reid, Antonio Roulet, Karell Vertet and Daniel Duru.
A key problem with independent cinema, particularly when working within the genres of action or sci-fi is building a story that can convincingly exist within your budget, and Matter feels as though it set its sights too high. It’s trying to create a story that takes place on a global scale with a constantly changing roster of characters and it’s simply too much to achieve. When the story opens and is focusing on Isaac, while he’s played by Elliott Toby, it works but as soon as it tries to move beyond that, it’s pushing itself too far and loses its sincerity.
While it’s constantly rush from one moment to the next, trying to build suspense and thrill, it’s not actually adding enough to the plot. The underlying story is not particularly complicated, it’s a familiar line of cinema: the hero getting caught up in a conspiracy he’s not prepared for. It also doesn’t feel like one cohesive machine, it feels like a lot of smaller pieces that aren’t perfectly fitting together. The same goes for the direction, it doesn’t have the consistency to build the necessary atmosphere. Jumping around from setting to setting, the visual quality tends to vary between each one.
It’s also harder to judge the performances of the cast because most of them don’t get enough screen time to establish themselves. Elliott Toby kicks things off well, being fresh into the game of acting isn’t a hinderance with Isaac, that inexperience can help him feel real, especially in his vulnerability and shyness. Ben Hall Jr. arguably gives the strongest performance of the film, he’s given the most time to build a persona and it comes with a big feel of stoicism and generosity. The rest of the cast are all fairly hit and miss, particularly Antonio Roulet who tries to hit the villain note too hard and isn’t very convincing.
Matter is unfortunately a case of trying to do far more than time and budget would allow. It’s difficult in this day and age even for big studios to create the type of entertaining sci-fi thriller that this film is going for, so trying to do so within the indie constraints is extremely difficult. The story struggles to build suspense and tension, it feels cold and distanced, its pieces aren’t moving together. The opening had potential and if it had reined itself in and continued that more focused style, the end result could have been much different.