Saturated with stylistic similarities to science fiction cinema new and old – from Blade Runner [Ridley Scott, USA, 1982] to Ghost in the Shell [Rupert Sanders, USA/India/Hong Kong/China/Canada, 2017] and everything in between – Venus nevertheless possesses a striking level of intrigue and unpredictability, brought together in a visually stunning triumph of short film-making. A blurring of nature and technology is immediately established as an underlying theme to the cyberpunk short, drawing our interest with the fluttering glitch of a ladybird into unnatural colours. Sitting amidst boundless fields of purple flowers, Iris (Phoebe French) is captivated by the small insect; it’s a vibrant and tranquil reality, virtually supported and too idyllic to last.
Following the grief-driven efforts of her mother (Abigail Moore), Iris is jolted back to life in the unfamiliar and, indeed, inhuman body of a defence model Cyntech Dollee (Margaret Clunie). A repetitive pulsing underscores the Frankenstein-esque process, an unnatural heartbeat as technology installs her consciousness back into the real world and she is swept away in a flurry of pixels. To survive, she must walk the dark, rain-soaked streets in search of ‘Venus’ under the flickering glow of blue and pink neon signs.
Aptly named for the Roman goddess associated with love, fertility, femininity and cultivated fields, the film maintains the association in a turn towards themes of prostitution and victory. Skilfully written by Andrew McGee and Tara Shehata, the dialogue hints at the structure of a wider dystopian society, in which Iris and her mother are class zero citizens. The cinematography and editing demonstrate range, contrasting a capacity for subtle emotional engagement with the overt manipulation of colour and animation.
Whilst brief appearances from the supporting cast help to contextualise the plot and deliver a peak into urban life in the futuristic society, it is Clunie’s performance as a trapped soul at odds with her body that drives the narrative forward, striking a fine balance between empathy and ambiguity around her character. From stumbling disorientation to fierce defiance, Iris’ journey is at once captivating and traumatic.
Touching on a wide range of issues in under fifteen minutes, Venus is an exquisitely-crafted glimpse into an urban dystopia about which many questions remain unanswered. From the relationship between technology and perception to Iris' uncertain future, we are left wondering and wanting to learn more.