Director: Patrick Ryder
Cast: Leila Kotori, Alex Phillips, Nadia Lamin, Mitch Rouse
Plot: In a dystopian future, a lonely girl (Kotori) finds the remains of a powered down robot. The pair of them form an unlikely friendship.
Human is a multi award-winning short film and can be viewed for free right here.
When it comes to film-making, one of the key themes writers love to explore is the identity of a robot. We can strip back the humanity in a person and work on building that identity back together again. In the reconstruction of this process, we end up realising what traits we value the most in humanity, which ones are stemmed from illogical emotion and which ones that perhaps the robot in question is more suited to embrace than an actual human. This is the story at the heart of Patrick Ryder’s latest short film, Human, where a lost girl, Leila Kotori, finds a robot in an abandoned warehouse. Connected to a power cable, making him unable to escape his confines without a system failure, the robot, Allium, is alone and forgotten by his creators. Together, the two form a bond and this gives Ryder ample opportunity to embark on his own journey of what comprises the best traits of humanity.
Allium is an interesting design of a robot. In Indie-film, it is too easy to go down the synthetic route: cast a human actor who is directed to only act with micro-expressions and take on several humanising monologues. It gets across the humanity side of things in a heartbeat, essentially a mirror into our own existence. While I am sure after Michael Fassbender’s stint in Alien, as well as anyone who has watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, every actor is queueing to play an android, but this does mean that Patrick Ryder would have been putting his film up there with the masses. Therefore, Ryder goes down the slightly harder road and strips away the face of his robot. Allium is a faceless exo-skeleton of an android, his only semblance to humanity his shape. This instantly puts Ryder back a few steps when it comes to bonding the audience with the robot, but it also proposes an amusing challenge for the director. What traits does this leave him with? And as a result, Allium is just as likeable without a discernible face. Alex Phillips provides the physical acting in the suit and works hard to convey the presence of a child-like being, waking up to a world that has abandoned him. This also puts extra work on Leila Kotori, the actress charged with acting opposite her. For a large part of the film, you could argue she is holding the piece together herself, tasked with working charisma out of a powered down lump of metal. She manages it superbly, eventually coaxing a heart-warming centre to the short. Bonding with the robot over Harlan Coben (good choice), and music, the two strike up a friendship in a world that has left them to suffer. It would have been wonderful to see this movie adapted into a feature film, slowly building this soft relationship over the course of a hour and a half. Ryder and Kotori do wonders with the time given to him though, having the audience in the palm of their hands throughout the course of the piece. Eventually the story moves away from their touching relationship to uncover the origins of Allium’s past, introducing the likeable Nadia Lamin, his creator, to the story. By this point in the short, we are captivated by Allium, no longer a faceless exo-suit, but a character within his own right. In short, Ryder has created a human identity.
Visually and emotionally, Human is a very strong piece. The cinematography works hard to gain the best shots from the surrounding area. Leila Kotori is introduced using shots that masterfully capture lens flare. Seeing as the short is mainly set in a single set, Ryder never lets it become dull throughout the 25 minute piece, always choosing the correct images to gain new material from the setting. It does have the potential to frustrate a few of the audience members in its aim to evoke emotion, rather than tell a story. Ryder puts most of his time into developing characters and performances, but leaves little room to expand the universe we are in. The Sci-Fi setting is never really explored beyond “society is a little dysfunctional/we have robots now!” For example, Leila Kotori is chased into the main warehouse in the middle of an argument, an argument that is never explained nor built upon. It means that Leila Kotori is never asked to do anything more with her character than be really sweet and friendly. There is nothing really more to do than add a tragic sadness behind her eyes that the audience can only guess at. There is time to be scavenged out of the piece too that could have been used to world-build. The movie’s pace is sometimes off, the movie opening with Leila Kotori wandering around the warehouse. That moment is a little slow, especially when there is nothing for the audience to be waiting for at this point in the plot. A trim in the edit wouldn’t have gone amiss. There are also moments when the soundtrack threatens to drown out the emotion. There are times it works, in pleasing montages where Kotori bounds with Allium, but when stretched across the whole piece, it steals power from key places. When Allium first wakes up, perhaps cold silence would have helped add gravitas to the mystery of the scene. On the whole however, these are more missed opportunities than film-damaging criteria, as evidenced by the many awards this film has accumulated in its festival run.
Final Verdict: Human is a wonderful short about the complexities of being human, bolstered by strong support from Leila Kotori.