Biopunk is a short film that was released in early 2017 from director Liam Garvo and Dresden Pictures and stars Katie Sheridan and Kristian Nairn (Hodor from Game of Thrones). Needless to say, the name itself immediately grabbed my attention. If you aren’t already aware, I don’t like to differentiate biopunk as a genre from the science fiction subgenre of cyberpunk, as biopunk elements have been a big part of the cyberpunk landscape from the very beginning. Biopunk is no exception to this. The film opens with a series of dirty post-apocalyptic scenes that show us the kind of world that our characters inhabit, and in it, you can see the gritty, dirt in the corners, future of Gibson. We are then introduced, through the background, to the punk side of everything. A totalitarian police state, with heavy police militarization, that has risen from a world devastated by a virus and created an oppressed people.
The plot of this short film follows Resha and her little brother, Kio, as they pass through this dystopic apocalypse so that Resha can get to work at Bob’s (Kristian Nairn or Hodor) gadget shop. On their journey, we are exposed to some excellent world-building, which will discuss more in a moment, but the story really comes to a head in its last minutes. A terrorist preacher suicide bombs Bob’s shop, impacting Resha and Kio, and likely killing Bob who tries to stop him, before Kio is spirited away by who we can only assume are ‘The Spring,’ a resistance movement – coming as no surprise to anyone who lived through 2011 and was conscious.
If there is one thing that can be said about Biopunk, above all others, it is that the film does a fantastic job of visual world building on par with the recent Blade Runner 2049 shorts. The world is obviously post-apocalyptic, but it is recovering. Between scenes of derelict buildings filled with antiquated technology, we see thriving elephant plowed fields of rolling green, something that feels straight out of biopunk classic novel The Windup Girl. We see a wall plastered with missing persons posters (fun fact, filled with faces of people who Kickstarted the project), then immediately after a long line at a police checkpoint trying to enter what seems to be a marketplace beyond a wall, in what is an apocalyptic London. Here, there was a moment that completely threw me out of my immersion in the masterfully crafted setting, Kio’s clean, well-kept leather shoes. They were so clean and new compared to everything else, that I immediately didn’t believe that they were from this world. From there though, we make our way through the marketplace and see various food made from rodents to posters showing the state of the world to a resistance canvasser harassing our protagonists.
There are a few points worthy of deeper inspection. First, the most cyberpunk aspect of the film is that Resha is a tinkerer and repairman in this desolate world. A rare skill, that Bob has obviously recognized the value of, as he made her an employee of his humble shop of gizmos and gadgets. Repair and making of electronics have always been an important aspect of cyberpunk, the hacker ethic, and the more recent Maker movement. It is a fitting element in this punk suffix story.
So what makes Biopunk, biopunk anyway? The answer to this isn’t immediately obvious, as the film focuses on its post-apocalyptic elements. If you pay close enough attention, a few things become apparent. The first, and most readily stated, is that the world was ravaged by a virus, a common biopunk trope. The second is that there are two classes of people, the genetically augmented and those who aren’t. The foreshadowing in this story screams that Kio is genetically superior somehow, but the story cuts out far before we know anything about this, but is presumably why he was kidnapped at the climax. There also seems to be a religion that has grown up around this genetic separation, which leads to the next theme – terrorism.
Terrorism seems to be heavily rooted in this story. The police state feels reminiscent of the draconian measures that have been implemented in our own world to prevent terrorist plots, and are apparently as effective at preventing them, which is to say not very effective at all. Our suicide bomber preacher spouting a sermon about genetic purity and God is familiar in the context of modern-day rationalization for terrorist activity in both the Islamic world, and by our Western, American, and European often Christian and xenophobic terrorists. It is no accident that there is mention of a ‘Spring’ resistance movement, like the Arab Spring, nor that we have a marketplace that feels like a Middle Eastern market, nor that there is Arabic writing in a few places – showing a melting pot of cultures. What is well positioned here, is that there is no judgment being wrought, the preacher isn’t Arabic, even though there is a heavy presence that acknowledges this Islamic terrorist inspiration.
My biggest criticism of Biopunk though, is that it isn’t long enough. It presents a lot of ideas in a rich world, but then doesn’t last long enough to deliver on them, or explore anything interesting that might be presented by them. The short feels like a pitch for a full-length feature film, and probably is to some extent, but it left me wanting for more. There is imagery that goes unexplained, like Resha and Kio laying in concentric circles in the dirt. Why? I want to know! The title Biopunk left me some serious expectations of the biological horror variety, and sadly, these were far from realized. That being said, the film is solid and a great way to spend 7 minutes. If you like cyberpunk, biopunk, or post-apocalyptic fiction, then Biopunk is definitely worth a watch.
If you like biopunk, you might want to check out Antiviral. (A search of the site didn’t bring it up.) I can’t say it’s a *fabulous* movie, but it’s a niche genre so you kind of have to take what you can get.
– Virus decimates a sizable part of the human specie.
– No gasmasks.