Writer/director Will Welles sends a spurned robot through the desert on its way to find its creator/partner in Rust In Peace, an elegiac sci-fi analogy about the dynamics of a dysfunctional relationship. Adding a fresh angle to a classic storyline, Welles’ 18-minute film combines the sprawling landscapes of the Western, with some futuristic practical FX work, to create a soulful short that orbits around a truly odd couple.
On its journey back home, like a repentant husband returning to his wife after a heavy night of drinking that has gotten out of hand, the robot X-On goes through possible conversation scenarios that might play out with his human partner Devin, after it wakes up on a dumping ground. Although X-On is happy to be back, its homecoming is greeted with ambiguous feelings and the reunion with Devin leads to a passive-aggressively tense situation.
“The heart of the film is a breakup story”, Welles tells S/W as we discuss the inspiration behind his short. “The kind of breakup where you have a big fight, think its over, then the next day your partner is in the kitchen making eggs like nothing is wrong. You’re dumb founded but too exhausted to get into again, plus even though you had to end it, you already miss them. I wanted to take that every human thing and bring it into a sci-fi world.”
Welles establishes a meditative, melancholic mood with the aid of the film’s beautiful score and striking cinematography by Arseni Khachaturan, whose compositions perfectly captures the vast desert landscapes and the more intimate, nightly interiors. Rust in Peace feels as if Harry Dean Stanton had been replaced by a desolate robot, walking through the secluded locations of Paris, Texas or Lucky, contemplating the duality of its/his eminent death with the looming sense of some unknown past, while taking in the short glimpses of the beauty our world has to offer.
Rhys Coiro, probably best known for his role as enfant terrible-director Billy Walsh on HBO’s Entourage, portrays Devin as a brooding and emotionally cut off ex-lover with the upper-hand in this break-up scenario, but it is Douglas Tait’s vulnerable physicality as X-On that gives the film its heft. The renouncement of CGI in favor of an actual materialization of the character, embodied by Tait in an elaborate robot costume, was a crucial decision to credibly establish the robot’s emotional complexity despite its bulkiness. A fact the director was well aware when conceiving the idea: “It was important to me that [the robot] would be physically present on set and not created in post.“
Rust in Peace uses sparse dialogue in its depiction of the interaction between X-On and Devin — as in most relationships that have exceeded their expiry date, no matter how much they talk, little of substance is said anyway. Both would be better off without each other, if only X-On could see his suffering beneath the deep affection he feels for Devin, who on his part takes advantage of the robot’s ultimately self-destructive love out of apparently sheer convenience. The emotional feedback loop of the dysfunctional relationship continues…
Will Welles is currently developing a feature adaptation of Rust in Peace, called Rustlands. It will be exciting to see where he takes the core premise and themes of the short as he cultivates them on a larger canvas.