Director: Shezad Dawood
Screenplay: Kirk Lane
Cast: Houda Echouafni as Mask; Chen Ko as Jiang; Tracy Brabin(as Maggie; Samantha Elizabeth Edwards as Nikki; Paul Leonard as Warner; Jennifer Lim as Shin; Bhasker Patel as Naseer Khan; Derek Siow as Lee
An Abstract List Candidate/Re-Review
In the city of Preston, aliens have for decades lived hidden amongst humans disguised as the Earthling's own. Two of them, disguised as a young Chinese brother and sister (Ko and Lim) appear and meet a veteran who has been on Earth for a long time (Patel), disguised as an older Pakistani man who runs a corner store, who is both incredibly glad to see them and offers a pure white room in his home for them to stay. Thus begins Piercing Brightness, an obscure British production from Shezad Dawood, a multimedia artist who created this feature film science fiction tale set in modern day England, in which these siblings' appearance is timely as the aliens who live in the town are in debate in-between finally revealing themselves to mankind and trying to return back home.
Among those caught up within this are a single mother (Brabin), a UFO enthusiast, who realises that she may not be who she thinks she is, her adult daughter who meets a bald Chinese man around her age and strikes up a bond with, and an alien disguised as an older male counsellor who is the one instigating the idea of revealing their true forms to humanity. As sinister hoodies stalk the aliens, revealed to be their own who transformed their bodies too many times to pose as human beings, the film will culminate in transcendental revelations whilst scored to Acid Mother Temple acid rock. Piercing Brightness is working off a low budget, but to its advantage, science fiction allows one to explore the genre tropes in a variety of ways. The best aspect of this film is the premise, of the alien placed in the ordinary environment of an English city, which is innately different from the American cities and countryside of their sci-fi and adds a huge contrast as a result.
This is the world of corner shops and nightclubs, cups of tea and playing FIFA on a games console (as namedropped in a piece of dialogue), which drastically contrasts the iconography of sci-fi, especially of aliens and UFOs, many of us likely picture as a result of American pop culture. This was why Jonathan Glazer's Glazer's Under The Skin (2013), with Hollywood star Scarlet Johansson stepping out of her comfort zone and becoming an alien, was such an eerie and unique film among of its other aspects, set in Scotland. Piercing Brightness takes advantage of these cafes and nightclubs, soaking in the pleasant, sometimes frankly bland mood of such environments in bright and crisp cinematography, the kind of environments where it is the people within it that really give it some much needed colour, an advantage this has in its cast.
When the aliens are revealed to be of all shapes and sizes, the film is also clearly looking at this subject with an immigration metaphor or at least, from Dawood, taking this genre from the perspective of non-white male characters. One scene, in this idea of people having to adapt to the environment, can be read this way when the brother alien tries asking for cigarettes in a cafe once, alongside the fact that a large portion of this film is that the aliens, merely here on Earth for exploration for decades as part of the "100 Group", are debating whether just to show themselves to the Earthlings as who they really are, which metaphorically can be read into greatly. The cast in general helps with this, and there is one single individual, Bhasker Patel as the alien posing as a corner shop owner, who brings the quality of the film up a bar. Both in how he is both charismatic and in his character, the man more than happy to be amongst the humans, excited like a young man when new aliens like him appear, but melancholic in that he has still been stuck on our planet in many forms, and wishes to return to his home out of nostalgia. His world weariness as a character adds a lot to a film which is more mood driven then narratively in the end.
The music as well helps greatly with the film, both from the original score by Alexander Tucker and the choice cuts picked from cult Japanese acid rock group Acid Mother's Temple. Known for being able to release up to four albums minimum a year since they started in 1995, side projects with other bands, and their clear love of psychedelic rock of the sixties from the title puns of their songs and albums, Acid Mother's Temple is the kind of band you could imagine aliens being scored to, archive footage of UFOs scored in montages to their druggy guitar riffs and making a perfect union together. Especially when the film starts to improve in structure by its middle half to the end, when the music is of greater importance than visual trickery, it helps reach a good build-up to the climax immensely. A lot of the film in general feels closer to visual montage experiments, with use of iconography of animals especially birds intercut between, from eagles to birds on mass in flight in the sky, and especially dead birds in decade or as skeletons, for me metaphors of these aliens trapped when, like birds, their real forms would be free from their confines.
Shezad Dawood decided to purposely make the film abstract in tone, intercutting shots of birds at unexpected moments between incidents in a single scene, using colour filters and distorted frames, noises mixing with the music. The result for many would require patience, falling into the stereotype of what an experimental movie is whilst still building on atmosphere. There is still a plot which eventually makes sense to contrast this aesthetic, even if this still has to work with limitations. Kudos has to be made for the car chase stunts, including someone being hit off a bicycle by a car during a chase, even if this is also a film where a faceless hoodie molests someone in the least threatening way possible, by merely tugging her top and then leaving her alone. The film drastically shifts when it gets to the middle of its running time, when the whole plot finishes within this timeframe of one night, the score taking over completely with some choice editing of snapshots in creating a tone.
Considering the director's art installation origins, the film based on a script from a cult novelist, this is an idiosyncratic melding of the duo between trippy sci-fi and installation art, which can juggle between two sibling aliens seeing a female alien with computer chip parts stuck to her face on the TV instructing them with esoteric words, contrasted by all the kaleidoscopic imagery, which does stand out with distinction as a combination in the end.
Abstract Spectrum: Avant-Garde/Expressionist
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low