Friday 28 August 2020

Dreamcatcher: "Away"

At some point in the coming years, a hapless insomniac will switch on a hotel TV in the middle of the night, happen across the Latvian animator Gints Zilbalodis's Away without knowing what it is, and be intrigued, possibly a little disturbed, and utterly compelled to see it out. Here is one of those singular oddities that comes out of nowhere from time to time to grace our schedules: it has no particular production heft behind it (as the unusually scant credits reveal, Zilbalodis did most of it himself), and boasts no star voices, mostly because it unfolds in near-silence, some choice sound effects aside. It's a film you can pay to see this weekend, yes, but it could just as well be a dream someone's managed to project on the walls of a cinema near you. Or a nightmare. It begins as such: with a boy whose parachute has snagged on the branches of a tree in an unfamiliar landscape being approached by a hulking spectre - think Brad Bird's The Iron Giant gone to the dark side - which plainly has designs on swallowing him up. Only when the lad escapes and learns he's dropped onto an island do we get any sense of what he's doing here and where he needs to be going. For much if not all of its running time, Away throws itself wide open to interpretation; the silence means there's none of that expositionary waffle or literalmindedness that dogged that joblot of Euro digimation with which the multiplexes reopened last month. Is that coal-black wraith, relentlessly stalking its prey through this landscape, meant to represent depression of some kind? There's a lot of it about nowadays.

You could always just marvel at the film's look. Away really is the best kind of worldbuilding, opening up all kinds of imaginative possibilities beyond the camera, and ensuring even that which is front and centre gradually reveals hidden depths. The animation is computer-generated, so has no problem doing scale: vast desertscapes, rolling seas, salt flats, a tense setpiece involving a rickety wooden bridge, a final Evil Knievel leap off a cliff, tailed by an avalanche. Yet Zilbalodis makes what appear to be hand-drawn interventions that personalise the action. His characters are but eyes and noses (which explains the silence: no-one has much of a mouth to speak of), but they're remarkably expressive for that. As for the narrative they've been plugged into, well, it wouldn't surprise you to learn that the director is a keen gamer. Away shapes up as a series of side missions (rescue the bird, sink the bridge) within the broader mission of passing beneath the stone croquet hoops that mark our hero's path and thereby getting from A to B. But the influence is immersive gaming, not the superficial thrills-and-spills of a carnage-generating shoot-'em-up: the kind of involving interactive entertainments where you play ten minutes and feel as if you've absorbed three hours of information, or where you play three hours, and it feels like ten minutes have gone by. At 75 minutes, Away runs half the length of Tenet, yet it generates more genuine wonder with far less of the fuss. If you were to risk going to the cinema this weekend with the express intention of having your mind blown, this would be the best direction to go in: I guarantee there are images that will stay with you for a long time, whether you catch them now, or at 3am in a chain hotel several years hence.

Away is now playing in selected cinemas.

No comments:

Post a Comment