Vessel: Film Review

Mood and psychodrama replace action in tiny-budget sci-fi effort

Adam Ciancio explores the effect that communicating with aliens has on an otherwise ordinary man.

MONTREAL — A moody sci-fi film that all but ignores genre trappings, Adam Ciancio's Vessel prefers to explore the angst of a man who, though blessed with an uncommon ability to communicate with aliens, feels used up and manipulated by the experience instead of privileged.

Surely influenced by Shane Carruth's Primer and other sci-fi indies that make a virtue of their limited production values, the picture doesn't match that film artistically, but will find some admirers on the fest circuit.

After the Roswell incident, it seems, the U.S. government began experiments in inter-dimensional communication with extra-terrestrials. Certain people, Interfacers, are particularly good at making contact, experiencing seizure-like telepathic episodes; Ash (Mark Ciaco) is one of them, and has been receiving bits of a formula he believes to be of Earth-shattering importance. His handler, who meets him in shady places more conducive to a spy rendezvous or drug deal, is certainly eager to see the complete message.

But receiving these transmissions takes a toll. Ash is losing his ability to feel emotion; he's neglecting those important to him; his sleep is so disrupted he carries inhalers to help him black out. Again, there are parallels with drug addiction, or perhaps mental illness. In visits with his therapist, Ash learns of a former patient, Elena, who may have shared his condition and found a way of dealing with it. Over the course of a day, he wanders through Melbourne and tries to find her while also mending fences with estranged loved ones.

Ciancio leaves plenty of room for interpretation here: We can take things at face value, read Ash's state as a drug or mental problem, or some combination.

What's most important to the filmmaker is atmosphere: A muted trumpet follows the anxious hero through impersonal urban settings; Diaco's sleepy performance is kept alive only by a sense of impending doom. The film grows more narratively cryptic near the end, and its quasi-religious final moments will leave many scratching their heads. But it will play well with fans who take the genre seriously enough to enjoy imagining ramifications most SF movies don't have time for.

Production Company: Klopek Films

Cast: Mark Diaco, Chris Bunworth, Daniel Frederiksen, Fraser Hanley, Justin Hosking, Evelyn Krape, Mike McEvoy, Ursula Mills, Georgina Naidu

Director-Screenwriter: Adam Ciancio

Producers: Adam Ciancio, Gabrielle Christopher, Leanne Hanley, Jonah Klein

Executive producers: David Egan, David Putt

Director of photography: Aaron Farrugia

Music: Dorian West

Editor: Ian Reiser

No rating, 86 minutes

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