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Third Contact – a film noir… involving quantum physics
Independent film ‘Third Contact’ had its UK premiere at the BFI IMAX on Monday 2 September. Terrorizer publisher Miranda Yardley was there to see it…
2012, BodyDouble Films, 90 minutes
Director: Simon Horrocks
It is impossible to write a review of the movie Third Contact without telling the extraordinary story of how the film came into being, how it got shown at the BFI IMAX on a Monday evening in September 2013, and the process that put it there.
I first came across Third Contact some months ago when I received a Tweet from a (previously unknown to me) Twitter account that challenged a rather facetious remark I’d make on the network about quantum mechanics to Evile drummer Ben Carter, who had temporarily taken over Terrorizer’s social media. This is how I ‘met’ this film’s director Simon Horrocks.
Horrocks and I exchanged several Tweets about a fantastical sounding idea known as the ‘many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics’ (at, I hasten to add, a level that was very much at the ‘layman’ level) and through this he introduced me to his film, Third Contact. We ‘chatted’ about the ideas in this film and movies with related concepts (like 2004’s ‘Primer’, directed by Shane Carruth). Through this, I became aware of how the movie had come into being, and what Horrocks was planning to do with it.
The film had been made by Horrocks and his friends with second-hand equipment and a production budget of £4,000 starting in 2010, as and when people were available to shoot the various scenes. Although shot in colour, the print itself is mostly black and white (which adds to the film’s stark atmosphere). The movie premiered at Internationale Hofer Filmtage on 25 October 2012 where it has been warmly commended, and Horrocks decided to use KickStarter to get the project a UK premiere at the BFI IMAX then secure a limited UK general release. Through this, Horrocks managed to raise £15,486 from 435 backers, of which I was one. As part of my reward I was able to attend this premiere.
First Contact is film noire (or even neo noire) and follows the protagonist, psychologist Dr David Wright (Tim Scott-Walker) as he descends from functioning alcoholic through depression, love, obsession and loss following a cryptic trail of clues found in notepads and diaries left by former patients.
His inadequacies as a human being are never greater than when he spirals into violence (one scene of which is particularly shocking) and, consumed by his own loathings and obsessions, a novel plot device, the concept of a form of immortality through quantum suicide is used to conclude the film.
Most works of fiction contain a certain autobiographcal element, and this is no exception, Wright is in part a reflection of Horrocks’ own battles with depression. This is apparent with some of the dialogue, which is at times incredibly insightful. Added to these observations, the film uses a whole armoury of psychological techniques to unsettle and create atmosphere that reeks of loss throughout.
The non-linear, intentionally ambiguous, disjointed story-line and challenging subject matter, combined with an always appropriate use of space, silence, music and dramatic contrast, surreal images and other-worldly characterisation makes for absorbing viewing. There are enough ambiguities (never senseless nor gratuitous or forced) to allow you to make your own mind up about what the movie says, and your own conclusions as to the motivations of the various characters and their eventual fate.
Horrocks’ camera-work is well-planned and rendered beautifully in black and white, which sets the atmosphere perfectly and allows for momentary shifts in reality through the occasional use of colour. Sound is executed competently, admirably even, considering the film’s budget and equipment available. The music, scored by Horrocks and collaborator Sarah Fogg helps move the film along, and is never obtrusive, instead allowing the story to unwind at its own pace and never resorting to bombast.
Lovingly made, Third Contact is never easy to watch, it’s certainly not a film to view passively and the viewer’s enjoyment is enhanced by a willingness to challenge events and apparent meaning within the film: things are never what they seem. As an essay on cognition and perceptions of reality, Third Contact is executed with a thoughtful style and a high degree of competence, aided by an intelligent screenplay that allows the gaps and silences to say as much as the dialogue and actions. If you have the chance to see this on general release, do it.
Third Contact website
Third Contact on KickStarter
Quantum Suicide and Immortality on Wikipedia
You can view the post-film Q&A: