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Review: The Scopia Effect – “The scare effects are subtle and creeptastic”


The Scopia Effect is written and directed by first-timer Christopher Butler, stars newcomer Joanna Ignaczewska, and is released on DVD in the UK on the 15th of February.

Basia (Ignaczewska) is a Polish emigre who, stressed by her office job and having trouble sleeping, decides to get some therapy to help. Unfortunately, she goes to the worst shrink ever who – after meditation is not helping – throws Basia straight into some past-life regression. After having her mind cracked open, Basia is left to fend for herself against an onslaught of visions of her past selves. These alternate-her invaders’ appearances are terrifying, and a bit out of order seeing as they should be on the same team – being the same person and all.

As Basia’s mental state fractures and disintegrates she starts Quantum Leap-ing into sequences from her past lives. This is no fun for her as pretty much every single one of those alternate pre-lives is hard, violent and murder-y. Plus, as she yells at people no-one else can see and acts like she is about to be killed in 16th century England, 19th century Japan, 18th century France, 17th century India, 50s Africa AND even First World War Germany, she swiftly ends up getting sectioned. Which makes the psychological warfare she must wage to try and make things return to normal across all her timelines even more difficult.

The Scopia Effect plays out like a kind of British indie one-woman Cloud Atlas. The pace and tone may be uneven, and the resolution is muddy at best, but Ignaczewska’s tough and tender, only crazy one/only sane one performance is excellent. Her fragility is always just the right side of believable and identifiable, without descending into weakness and annoyance. As her support are so generally poor, Ignaczewska really stands out – especially in stilted scenes with disinterested, off-the-street co-stars that make the “real life” therapy, work and dance class scenes really grind.

The shooting style of these scenes is bizarrely bland too, with important visual information often left out of frame, and the camera dithering in-between two characters showing us nothing but the edges of both of their hands. In high contrast the scenes inside Basia’s head, and the ones in her other lives are very cool. Basia’s psyche is a bright plane that looks like it exists inside a J.J. Abrams lens flare, and her flashbacks are gorgeously realised.

The effects show much imagination and exciting visual flair. A shot of someones head blowing out of their eyes is beautifully realised, and the scare effects are subtle and creeptastic: shadowy tendrils writhe and creep from dark corners of rooms, while Basia sometimes wakes from her regression episodes with her body stuck halfway through walls or the floor.

The DVD itself is a vanilla disc with the minimum of content. The film has stereo and 5.1 audio tracks, with the 5.1 mix being particularly lively and aurally exciting during Basia’s mind rift freak outs. The picture is perfectly adequate for standard def, with no encoding artefacts visible even during particularly hectic sequences. The extras are bare bones, with nothing but the film’s trailer present. A commentary, making of, or look at the films VFX’s would have really made a big difference here, and some insight into the film could have been extremely interesting.

Thrilling effects, a muddled story, a powerful core performance – and some dodgy supporting ones – combine to create a messy yet interesting feature that, while needing more focus, promises exciting futures for Butler and Ignaczewska.

The Scopia Effect is released on DVD in the UK on the 15th of February.



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