Scintilla (2014)

Scintilla is well acted, well directed, well scored, superbly designed and grimly nihilistic, but much like it’s title, it is also massively confusing. Enjoyable, but only if you prefer your sci-fi horror to be deliberately elusive.

Welcome to the future. Or the past. Or an alternate universe. Or now. Whenever we are, we’re following a group of people – possibly soldiers, maybe mercenaries, potentially rebels – as they embark upon a mission involving a scientist in a wartorn country – possibly Russia, maybe Serbia, potentially a country that doesn’t exist except in this Universe – where they need to find something hidden in an underground scientific research facility, possibly.

After 45 minutes someone says “why don’t you tell me what all the fuss is about” – and we’re finally given an explanation as to what’s actually going on. Not that it matters, because it just gets weirder and weirder…

Unfortunately the plotting is infuriatingly elusive, either forgetting to build the world we’re thrown into, deliberately refusing to or expecting us to know. Whatever the case, the first thirty minutes are baffling and all attempts at tension fall flat because you will have zero clue who the protagonists are and why their mission matters.

Location wise, the confusion is confounded by the almost entirely British cast. Only the ‘bad guys’ are foreign – a mix of Russians, Georgians and Serbians – which is hugely confusing. Are they on the border of Russia and England?

Even when the mission is revealed, it’s hard to care about – without understanding the world or anything about the characters, the situation just doesn’t matter. Being offered a ‘two million pound bonus’ means nothing when the value of that currency is unclear. Only the final scene gives any indication of time, location and the actual stakes involved, and this absolutely shocked me.

Some audiences will lap up the constant mystery and grim, elusive nature of the plotting, but most will switch off – emotionally and literally – within the first 30 minutes.

This plotting / world-building confusion is possibly down to the many writers involved in the project, with credits for Steve Clark, Josh Golga, Rob Green, G.P. Taylor and Billy O’Brien (who also directs), which may have led to this deliberate evasiveness. A simple title card at the beginning giving a tiny explanation as to when / where we are may have changed the viewing experience entirely – but instead it’s left for the audience to work out.

Despite the baffling plot, Scintilla is very well made. The set design and cinematography are excellent, truly creating the world (wherever / whenever this world it is), the score is perfectly suited, the direction sharp and solid, and the acting superb throughout – Antonia Thomas is especially good, as the only character with a moral compass that isn’t entirely shattered.

Occasionally a scene may drag on too long, and there’s a lot of wandering around derelict tunnels and concrete buildings, but mostly it keeps the pace solid throughout. The action is well done, and vicious in places, so there are definitely a few moments for the gorehounds out there too.

Overall Scintilla is a well created science fiction film but the infuriatingly elusive nature of the plotting makes it tougher viewing than it needs to be. Enjoyable but deeply flawed.

Rating: ★★★★½☆☆☆☆☆

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