I’m not quite done with my Winter Shorts Series just yet; and today’s movie is a fine example of why I’m keeping it going a bit longer
Today’s movie is Payload a beautifully bleak sci-fi dystopian short written and directed by Australian filmmaker Stuart Willis
The film focuses on the fate of the Carter family, scavengers living on the fringes of society in the not-too-distant future. Apparently, in this future everyone who’s anyone lives in space, while the Carter’s (who live just outside the civilized transportation hub at the base of a great orbital elevator) are. literally and figuratively. on the outside looking in, (and up). Life on the ground appears to be pretty tough, and the only hope seems to be from Kate Henshaw (Joanne Owen-Smith) a security guard at the elevator, who uses her official position to operate her unofficial business which includes human trafficking, running prostitutes, and all manner of black market operations. She makes it clear that she’s willing to help at least some of the Carters, but that help is going to come with a tremendous cost.
The film is dark and somewhat depressing, but fantastically realized. Although the content is very different, I found the tone and atmosphere to be very reminiscent of Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica. This, to be clear, is a good thing.
If I had a problem with this film it’d be that it seemed fairly ill-suited to the short format. I feel like I’ve had a glimpse of what may be an intriguing world here, but I didn’t get a chance to see enough to really believe it. The same seemed true of the characters, there are probably too many characters for a film of this length. While, as it turns out, only four of them really matter, it takes a while for this to become clear, and as a consequence, I didn’t feel like I spent enough time with the protagonists to really understand who they were, or become as emotionally invested in their fates as I would have liked to have.
Still, this is a brilliant and creative effort. The special effects, the cinematography, and the score are all absolutely first-rate. Moreover, Willis deserves a great deal of credit for the decision to place the focus of the film on his characters and their relationships. I just wish I would have had the chance to see more of them.
The good news is that apparently Willis is hard at work on a feature adaptation of Payload, I’m certainly looking forward to it, although part of me thinks the concept might be better suited to a limited-run TV series than a film. Of course, nobody really makes those, so in any case, for the time being we’re left with just this short film. While the dark themes may be a turn-off for some, the combination of creative storytelling and filmmaking prowess on display here mean that despite the few quibbles I had, Payload is absolutely worth seeing.