The ‘experiment with unintended consequences’ story has been a staple of science fiction ever since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1818. But whereas Victor Frankenstein was trying to create life, the scientist in Richard Miller and Grant Archer’s sci-fi-thriller Repeat is attempting to contact the dead – although the moral of both stories might be the need to take responsibility for your creation.
Psychology lecturer Ryan (Tom England) is tinkering on an experimental project at home when he somehow stumbles upon a way to contact lost loved ones. With his teenage daughter Sam (Ellila-Jean Wood) missing and feared dead, Ryan uses his spirit machine to try to contact her, in order to find out the truth about her disappearance.
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Filmed over just three weeks between Covid-19 lockdowns last year, with a minuscule budget and a five person crew, Repeat is one of those rare, quietly brilliant indie sci-fi flicks that are such a pleasant surprise to come across. Understated, tightly scripted, and focusing on plot and performance over flashy visuals, Repeat spins a compelling yarn. That it also stars the fabulous Charlotte Ritchie (Ghosts, Feel Good), and the much loved Nina Wadia (Eastenders, Goodness Gracious Me) really is the icing on this delicious yet mysterious cake.
Mystery is indeed at the heart of this movie. What happened to Ryan’s daughter? Is she alive or dead? Does Ryan’s machine actually work or is he a fraud? There are many questions ticking away as the story unfolds, but if you pay attention – and this is a film that requires attention – you might find that you arrive at an answer before Ryan does, which has the effect of ramping up the tension as you wait to see if you are right. Repeat drip-feeds information, making effective use of flashbacks where necessary, taking its time – slow and steady – to reveal its endgame.
The central performances are strong, with Tom England relatable as the increasingly desperate Ryan, and Charlotte Ritchie bringing her usual class and realistic speech patterns to the part of distraught mother Emily, with cracks beginning to show in the relationship between them. The supporting cast also put on a solid show, with a particularly good turn from Nina Wadia as a grieving widow hoping to contact the other side.
The production design provides a claustrophobic feel to the piece, with a distinctly unsettling atmosphere hanging over proceedings, especially in the scenes where Ryan’s machine is switched on and attempting to contact the deceased. The machine itself looks suitably sciencey, with something of a menacing air about it. Repeat isn’t too specific about how its science works, but it doesn’t need to be, and scientific processes and materials are alluded to without being named in a way that never threatens the suspension of disbelief.
Writer and co-director Richard Miller has created a lot with very little, and Repeat shows just what can be done by focusing on substance over mere style in science fiction. A thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi thriller, Repeat is – quite aptly – highly rewatchable and definitely destined to become a fan favourite.