Sunday, August 25, 2013

Vacuity (2013)

Vacuity, dir. Michael Matzur. Montana State University, 2013. Starring Michael Steppe. 14 minutes.

Reviewed by Brian Eisley

Vacuity is a beautifully-made short SF film that functions both as a thoughtful character study and as a suspenseful thriller. Shot on a very minimal set, with a single camera and a nonexistent budget, Vacuity nevertheless manages to pack more story into its 14 minutes than many films ten times its length.

Alan Brahm (Michael Steppe) works as an engineer on the XOEH space station. As the story begins, he awakens in an airlock where he had been preparing for an EVA. His computer terminal displays error messages: hydraulics, pneumatics, airlock systems. Alan soon discovers that the station has suffered catastrophic damage, his teammates are dead or unaccounted for, his suit is damaged, and he is trapped in the airlock—with the computer stuck in its decompression sequence.

Frantically, Alan contacts ground control, who walk him through several attempts to stop the airlock’s cycle, or to force open the door. When these efforts fail, and the controller refuses to let Alan disconnect the airlock and escape, he is driven to a terrible choice: to defy his orders and abandon his team, or sacrifice himself to save them—and leave his wife and young daughter behind.

Vacuity was written and directed by Michael Matzur, who has previously worked in television as a production assistant (most prominently on Top Gear USA). He made it for his senior project at the film school at Montana State University-Bozeman, and most of the crew are students or graduates of the same school. However, Vacuity shows a restraint and maturity far beyond what would be expected of most film students. The set and lighting are low-key and convincing; the flawless editing by Tommy Domingo keeps the story moving. Michael Steppe gives an excellent performance as Alan Brahm, effectively depicting an ordinary man forced into an extraordinarily difficult decision.

The script, also, is tight and economical, concentrating on Brahm’s situation and the dilemma he faces. The story leaves many questions unanswered; in particular, it would be nice to know more details about the disaster the station faces. But this is secondary to Alan Brahm’s story. We only know what he knows, and he has to make his choice with only the limited information available. Matzur’s screenplay, smartly, leaves it to us to decide if the decision was the right one.

Vacuity, overall, is an excellent example of what can be done with a clear, concise story, and a talented filmmaker who knows how to tell that story in an economical fashion. Matzur and his colleagues show tremendous potential here, and it will be exciting to see what he does in the future. Recommended.

Vacuity is available for viewing at YouTube, Vimeo, and the movie's website:

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