Lo-fi science fiction is a tricky proposition to pull off, but can be immensely rewarding. With an emphasis on ideas, and grounded in specificity rather than spectacle or world-building, it is a great showcase for writers. Without the overhead of an immense production, fantastic stories can be told economically, a formula perfect for low-budget shorts, and with Never Happened, Mark Slutsky cements a name for himself in this niche of science fiction. As with his previous short, The Decelerators, Slutsky marries an indie-aesthetic that is akin to Primer-era Shane Carruth, with tight, frills-free storytelling, to relate a dark speculative sci-fi that plays like a lost episode of Black Mirror.
Noted TV actor Aaron Abrams (seen also in Code 8) stars in a compact story of a businessman traveling with his colleague (Mia Kishner). After nailing a big presentation, the pair celebrate with drinks, and the setup writes itself—becoming a “will they, won’t they” scenario at the end of the night. Married, with a child on the way, he is reticent, but then the sci-fi aspects come into play, highlighting a moral quandary that is fascinating to ponder—is indiscretion problematic if indiscretion can be forgotten? If you can erase the traces of bad behavior, what is the harm? Rather than be morally ambiguous though, Slutsky seems to imply that what seems to be consequence-free fun has a dark undercurrent, and that transgressions create a slippery slope, as he hints at an even more chilling violation of his wife and marriage in the film’s twist.
Slutsky is a master of this kind of character-driven messiness and the unintended consequences of living on the edge. The Decelerators mines similar territory, and he has been recognized for it in his native Canada, and on the web, where that film was enthusiastically received, garnering numerous write-ups and a Staff Pick in 2013. We imagine Slutsky’s newest, which played the Toronto International Film Festival as well as Tribeca, will be similarly lauded.
Never Happened is today presented by DUST, a new entertainment portal dedicated to sci-fi shorts. Part of Gunpowder & Sky, the digital division of Chernin Entertainment, the recently launched site has been filling out its back catalog with internet favorites of the last couple of years, but Never Happened marks its first premiere. The project is headed by Steve Tzirlin, a producer we’ve known for developing short film properties like Rosa, and Ruin back when when he had a first-look deal at Fox Studios. Now at Chernin, it is exciting to see major players taking an interest in the short film space, and look forward to keeping an eye on DUST as it grows, including its tentative plans to produce original shorts. With generous licensing deals available for short premieres, if you’re submitting your sci-fi to Short of the Week, let us know if working with this new platform is of interest.