So Unreal (Fantastic Fest 2023)
Dir. Amanda Kramer (2023)
A documentary about the funneling of societal anxieties about increasing technology, as told through movies and media.
Themes within horror has always been traceable through social concerns, whether it be the Red Scare thrusting nuclear terror into the films of the 50's and 60's or the torture porn revolution after 9/11. So Unreal, the new documentary from Amanda Kramer that just premiered at Fantastic Fest, discusses the relationship between the growing fear of technology and the increasing computerization of society and the science fiction and horror films from 1981 to 2001. Filled with Tron-era graphics and clips from dozens of movies, newscasts, and educational films, So Unreal provides a comprehensive look at the American obsession with computer technology and the apprehension that the sudden flood of change brought with it.
From The Matrix to The Lawnmower Man, Hackers to Tron, Kramer takes aim at the terrifying effect of the inundation of computers and Hollywood's relationship with them. Whether that relationship is naive, as is often the case with films prying into the most recent technology, or prescient, as the best science fiction often is, So Unreal provides a fascinating exploration of yet another trend in film. It's also one that's often ignored. Most people think about the techno-horror/scifi of the 80's and 90's in derisive terms, rightly critiquing an industry that often fails to understand what it seeks to exploit. It is still, however, a discussion that yearns to be had, especially now that many of the futuristic predictions have become everyday experiences for modern audiences.
So Unreal explores films from such luminaries as David Cronenberg and Kathryn Bigelow but is never afraid to delve into the one-offs either, discussing Irwin Winkler's The Net alongside genre films like Arcade and Ghost in the Machine. It's far from a comprehensive documentary, often jumping from film to film and, while providing accurate (though brief) discussions of each one, never spending enough time to truly diagnose and break down their effects on society. The choice of narrator is also a bit distracting, a digitized female voice that clearly seeks to be reminiscent of many of the movies chosen for the film but also removing any connection that would usually be sought in those discussions. By and large, however, it's a well-made film with some interesting insights, and it's a subject that certainly deserves as much critique as it has enjoyed prevalence.
Who this movie is for: Horror documentary fans, Special effects enthusiasts, Technocrats
Bottom line: While it's not the best documentary I've seen, it's definitely the best one on this subject so far. The films are wide-ranging, from horror/scifi to buddy comedy, and its scope covers two decades of technologically advanced cinema. It's definitely a must-see for technohorror fans, and it's an interesting and philosophical take on one of the more all-encompassing brand of film to come out of the last several decades. It just played at Fantastic Fest and will be available soon from Yellow Veil.