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Pets [David Wunderlich, Germany, 2018]

This intriguing and, perhaps to some, bleak science-fiction short film opens up in a near future. The title refers to the human condition as it stands in this imagined future, where we are no longer governors of our own thought processes, choices and, most importantly, our own emotional constructions.

We, of course, already live in a world where technology plays a major part in assisting us in our everyday lives, but it could be argued that we have grown so dependent on its uses to the point where it has taken much away from our physical and emotional identities. An early scene in the film signals us towards the protagonist’s own ideals, but he is quickly reminded that his daily life is already mapped out for him in very minute detail, and in this manner Pets provokes us to consider the emotional losses humankind might come to experience at the expense of convenience, and does so in a heart-breaking way.

A slave to technology

A bearded man, (played by Steven Preisner) is a ‘pet’, tied to one of many drone mechanisms that control, manipulate and inform the human race in respect to their day-to-day actions and routines. Steven’s main activity on this particular day is a celebration ball attended by many other humans, including one woman in particular (played here by Almuth Jabs) with whom he has formed a close bond. Perhaps tonight is the night on which their friendship may become something more…

The film very cleverly poses questions concerning humanity and considers how much of our sense of self-identity is lost once we allow technology to influence our lives. Director David Wunderlich references classic sci-fi texts in his choices of colour and location, and David Schuster’s cinematography really helps the story to evolve. The cinematography has a Kubrickian feel to it; wide, open spaces that allow the audience to absorb the loneliness and desperation felt by the leads in their torturously regulated state.

There are subtle nods to genre classics such as Star Trek (USA, 1966-1969) throughout, dealing with similar technological themes, and also in the colour palette and costume design (with its two leads in gold and blue, reminiscent of Kirk and Spock). The film’s ending references Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicholas Meyer, USA, 1982), having an equally emotional impact. It is telling that one of the humans in the final shot has red hair, another visual reference reminding us of the fate of the famous Star Trek crew members who frequently never made it back to the bridge of the Enterprise in the original series. That the film’s two main characters find their only comfort in each other is perhaps a singular positive to come from the devastating final moments.

Pets has the structure and resolution of a Twilight Zone (USA, 1959-1964) episode, in its moral and cautionary delivery. The audience, in this case, is led up the garden path, and by the halfway mark offers hope that our leads’ actions might change the course of events, only for the film to conclusively present their fates as predestined.

Pets, frankly, is a spellbinding piece of work at this level of filmmaking, with beautiful lighting, texture, cinematography and performances. The film’s cinematography and use of visual effects are to be applauded and the choices of locations are exceptional. Aided by Ramon Zollner’s classically constructed score, Pets provides the audience with the warmth of a love story, placed within the cold reality of the film’s fatally conclusive moments.


'Pets' was a film submission in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.

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