Have you ever let your ambitions blindly guide you through life, rarely allowing your vision to open up beyond what’s in front of you? If you spent your entire life working toward a specific goal, does that automatically justify any decision you make, so long as it takes you closer to that goal? Why would anybody build a well that’s flush with the ground and isn’t built higher? These are just a few of the questions you’ll be pondering while watching the off-kilter historical drama Dimensions, the impressive feature debut from U.K. director Sloane U’Ren and her screenwriter/composer husband Antony Neely.
Dimensions is a challenge to pigeonhole into a genre, as it takes place in England in the 1920s and focuses on one man’s childhood love. But it’s also revolves around time travel, and it isn’t afraid to get a little weird. To me, it’s as if Mary Shelley wrote about a time machine instead of a resurrected creature, and though our central character Stephen (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) isn’t as singularly interesting a character as Victor Frankenstein, he is every bit as driven, which makes him a wild card. You never know what kind of self-effacing thoughts traipse through his mind.
As a child, Stephen’s two best friends were Conrad and Victoria, and the three spent their time playing in the outdoors where hey come upon a well that seems to go down forever. It’s clear that both boys have a strong fondness for Victoria, and so when she gets lost down the well, it’s a life-changing event for everyone.
Cut to the future, where Stephen has become a theoretical physicist declaring that there are an infinite number of dimensions with an infinite number of events happening at once. Because of this, he says, traveling back to the past will not affect the present, as there is already some other version of that happening elsewhere. Yet he’s made it his life’s work, along with his now-assistant Conrad (Sean Hart), to invent a time machine out of assorted electronic parts and a piano, if only to see Victoria for the briefest of moments before that fateful day. When a young woman named Annie (Olivia Llewellyn) shows interest in his studies, Stephen is blinded by his work, not realizing that not all things need to be sacrificed for love.
Dimensions, like About Time or Safety Not Guaranteed, uses time travel as a plot device, but mostly as a way of revealing things about the characters. It is an obsession like any other, albeit one that bears interesting fruit. Stephen’s lofty goals and unwillingness to accept personal outside funding create tension between him and Conrad, as his stubbornness limits their success. But there are other things forever left unsaid hanging between the two men in every scene.
If there are faults, they are perhaps a slow-pacing and slight story, but both of those play into the film’s tone, which rides a non-maudlin wave of dread throughout. Because U’Ren takes her time in setting these scenes up with rich cinematography, there is no overstating the sideways mental spiral that engulfs these characters. I spent much of the movie waiting for another shoe to drop. And I say another, because there are indeed some surprises to be had here.
The direction, especially in the beginning when the characters are children, is just lovely, adding a sense of visual magic before we even realize how fantastical the story gets. After watching, I’m still quite enamored with the well, both because of the role it plays and because of how beautifully it is framed each time it is shown. U’Ren adds warmth to many situations that are otherwise cold, and the subtle, effective score complements her work quite well. It’s one of the rare films where you can tell every dollar of the limited budget was put on the screen.
Long after the quaint, fitting ending, Dimensions rattles around in your brain, leaving you wanting, but not needing, every question answered. If this stylish and assertive debut is a sign of things to come from U’Ren and Neely, I’m beyond eager for their next project. Maybe they can switch genres in one of those parallel universes, but we’re certainly hoping they stick to sci-fi for now.
The sci-fi festival hit Dimensions is currently available on VOD and is making a limited theatrical run. Visit the film’s Facebook page for more information, and check out the tie-in website for an interesting companion piece to the film’s narrative. And after you’ve gone and watched the film, let us know what you think in the comments.