Travis Milloy’s Somnio is set in the near future, in a place where the government has embraced technology to its fullest. Drones streak across the skies, people are tracked and monitored through their purchases, and robots with artificial intelligence are no longer a novelty. Here, when you are accused of a crime, you are tasered and taken to a secret government facility to be ‘processed.’ This is where we find Somnio’s protagonist Frank Lerner (Christopher Soren Kelly). Waking up alone in a small cell, he meets his ‘LSO’ a personable, if frustratingly uncooperative, AI. Introducing itself as Howard (Jesse D. Arrow), it exists only as a swivelling camera and disembodied voice able to produce all that Frank needs to survive from various panels in the walls.
Soon after waking, Frank is subjected to interrogation with the use of the ‘Somnio machine’ – a device that forces the prisoner to relive a day over and over whilst it searches for evidence of your crime. In Frank’s case, this involves revisiting a cafe where he met the sweet and quirky barista Gabby (Cassandra Clark). As time goes on, Frank begins to suspect that the world outside has changed, and forgotten about him entirely. When the food runs out and the power begins to fail, Frank must make a choice. Will he give up and resign himself to his grim fate, or will he fight to escape?
The cast is small, and it’s a testament to Kelly’s acting ability that he’s able to deliver such an emotive performance in his empty prison cell. The chemistry between he and Clark is also clear, even as the two characters are forced to admit that none of their experiences are real. Despite the ‘groundhog day’ effect of the machine, the film is never monotonous. The editing is slick and seeing Frank exploring the boundaries of his ‘dream world’ keeps the audience engaged. The fact that it’s a low-budget independent film is never obvious. It’s clear that a great deal of effort went into fleshing out the set, and into the details of the story. The music also deserves praise. Composer Jacob Yoffee produced a beautiful score that enhances every scene without detracting attention from the action.
It would have been interesting to see a little more of what lead to an automated justice system and what went on outside the walls of Frank’s prison, but ultimately, that wasn’t the story that Somnio was choosing to tell. This original and creative sci-fi is a slow-burning, smart, psychological thriller that will leave you questioning your relationship with technology.
Find out more information about the movie at the film’s official website, here.