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In an attempt to escape from her reality, a troubled woman comes face to face with a nefarious android, in this duel between woman and AI - British sci-fi drama is available for digital download on Monday, January 8th

On the big screen, science fiction has proven itself to be fully capable of subverting common, everyday fears: a genre of singular, stylistic invention that asks viewers to moralise, theorise and question their personal milieu for fear that they too may find themselves in a dystopian nightmare.From Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) to Black Mirror (David Slade, 2018), audiences have been warned time again and again to the dangers of technology. With Blank, director Natalie Kennedy shows a reality not too distant from our own, where humans serve the machines at their disposal.

Claire (Rachel Shelley) is a wayward writer escaping her everyday existence in a writer’s retreat. Concerned by the snappy robots, she grows increasingly worried for her life, which she leaves almost entirely in the hands of the robots who serve as her friends, colleagues and prison guards. One of her androids, presented as a woman, is particularly volatile, leaving Claire – who had turned to this retreat for some solitude – open to personal attacks from all corners.

Shelley’s face is brimming with consternation and fear at all times. The key element to her performance is that she could as easily play villainess as she does damsel, which leads viewers to question whether they are rooting for her, or against her. Shelley brings a much needed authenticity to the film, which regularly delves into a series of far-fetched set pieces. Shelley’s background is in theatre, which makes sense because she lets her body tackle much of the heavy lifting, much of it in wide angles. The camera may draw away, but the actress is never anything less than visible. Better than that, she’s vital in everything she does, whether it’s painting a thinly veiled smile, or recalling the scars bandied onto her by childhood stress.

Claire’s only companion for much of the runtime is Rita (Heida Reed), an android who flits from helpful aide to maniacal aid. With her operations malfunctioning, Rita regularly threatens Claire, a woman who has to treat this ridiculous scenario with the solemnity it deserves.

It takes a fine actress to draw people into the narrative, particularly since the effects look and sound slapdash, but luckily for director Natalie Kennedy, Shelley is a very fine actress. It is through her furrowed brows that the horror envelopes, much as it is through her body we recognise the extent in which she is paralysed in fear. These underpinnings are occasionally quashed by the comically grotesque makeup worn by Rita, but the iciness, the fear and the nausea are undeniable.

The supremely silly outfits double as a commentary, a critique on man’s faddishness, his inability to think outside of the realm of his immediate geography. Furthering the claustrophobia, Rita reels off a script of catchphrases, as if feigning an interest in her prey. “You seem distressed,” she intones. “Maybe you should have a lie down”. You could call the sentiment here nostalgic, but there’s nothing rosy about the situation, only raw nerves and captivity. Instead, Kennedy indulges in the limited space, which allows the danger to seep into all corners of the frame. Some of what Kennedy has to say stems from her position as a female voice in a male genre, asking ticket-buyers to empathise with the latent violence women undergo on a daily basis.

In one telling flashback, Claire is reminded of the abuse she endured at the hands of her mother. Forced to transcribe endlessly for her visually impaired parent, Claire’s upbringing causes her to question the arrival of a friendly face. At less than 100 minutes in length, the film merely hints at the discontentment, but the trauma is sufficiently tangible as a character device.

Blank is available for digital download on Monday, January 8th.


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