Film review: Synoptica by Lewis Coates

Jack and Rachel move into the home of their dreams, an idyllic cottage. The house is entirely run by Synoptica, an operating system which also offers 'wearable' personal devices such as contact lenses and sub-dermal implants. Jack is an enthusiastic adopter, whereas Rachel is hesitant, reluctantly caving in when she notices that her refusal to embrace technology is causing tension to her relationship. But Synoptica, the state of the art system that everyone is boasting about, has its downsides too, and the couple are about to find out...

The film's strongest suit is surely the way in which it depicts the increasing intrusiveness of technology in life, to the point of becoming a real source of conflict between the two. The frequent use of point-of-view shots also helps conveying this, especially when we see Jack's inbox as he looks at Rachel, or when we share the operating system's POV, via a computer or one of the tablets that help regulating the functions of the house.

A particularly poignant sequence is the one following a major glitch in the system: not only do the underlying tensions between Jack and Rachel come to the surface, but also a much more sinister implication is raised – how much of our lives are we disclosing to our devices? And most importantly: how long until we, too, can be hacked?

We speak to Lewis Coates, director and co-writer of Synoptica.

Cineuropa Shorts: It feels as if cinema is beginning to address the ever increasing influence technology has over our lives – a recent example being Spike Jonze's Her. What lead you to this subject matter, what was the inspiration behind the film?

Lewis Coates: Technology is such an integral aspect of our everyday lives now, and because it's constantly adapting, I think our society is constantly overwhelmed by it. It's improving methods of communication, finance, medicine - even the medium of film watching itself. There's some great examples of technology shown positively in film to reflect our societies' current view, but I think it's very interesting to look at the potentially negative side to a product that we only try and see as such a positive.

More recently, with coverage of celebrity hacking scandals, Wikileaks and the dark net, the increase in illegal downloads - slowly audience's minds are opening up to the potential downside that could come from being so involved with technology and that's something we wanted to play with in Synoptica.

The juxtaposition between countryside cottage and state of the art technology is quite unexpected. What determined this choice of location?

We did initially look at a very modern, open-plan apartment location to resemble the futuristic date and theme, but in the end we wanted to create the sense that you didn't have to be in a big city to be affected and immersed in technology. People always regard the countryside as an escape from the hustle and bustle of a big city, and we wanted to intrude this couple's escape with just as much paranoia and lack of privacy as the city-goers.

Rachel's post-hack paranoia raises an interesting point: it feels as if Jack himself has been hacked. Was that something you were thinking about, the possibility of us being hacked?

Yes, definitely. Nowadays we have so much important information stored in one place, if my computer or phone suddenly malfunctioned, I'd lose so many important files. If you continue this same idea with a microchip that is embedded in your body, there could be a lot more permanent damage. And once this thought is in Rachel's head, it doesn't even need to be true, she's constantly thinking whether someone is watching her, accessing her personal data and invading her privacy - and that's enough to turn her crazy. 

What's next for Synoptica? What is your next project? 

Synoptica has been sent to a few film festivals this year and we're continuing to promote it online. We really like the theme of 'negative technology' - as well as it being very current, you can create a dark narrative alongside some great visuals and sounds. So we have drafted up a few ideas for 1-2 minute short films that we're looking to develop over the next few months. We're intending to release these online as a kind-of series, but are still in the development stages at the moment - but we will keep you updated with any progress.

28 October 2014, by Chiara Puntil