Mimicry: The “science-fiction” short film that is soon becoming a reality

Image courtesy of William Ukoh.
CineFiles is a series where Ryerson students watch and review films. Here’s what we think about all kinds of film, ranging from international blockbuster hits to Ryerson-made indie shorts.

Imagine customizing a virtual avatar that will exist in a video game. The power to choose its gender, appearance, personality and skills are all in the palm of your hand. But instead of a character, what if the avatar was a real human baby who will be brought into the world? After the first case in China, there has been a growing amount of experiments involving the genetic modification of human embryos around the globe. Altering embryos at the genetic level can prevent disease and disability while enhancing human capabilities. Yet this practice has sparked international debate on the bioethics of tampering with human life.

Directed by Aliks Chen and Dylan Simmons, Mimicry is a 16-minute short film that challenges the reality of this technology by featuring a pregnant mother caught within a bioethical dilemma. The film is set in the near future, where advanced genetic technology allows parents to create the “perfect organism.” Children’s physical and intellectual characteristics can be customized before birth. Lead actress Kelci Stephenson plays the role of Claire, a young mother who must choose between having her child born naturally or genetically modifying her baby with in vitro fertilization (IVF).

It is clear why the creators of Mimicry received the Best Sound Award at the Ryerson University Film Festival. Sound designer Dylan Lewis and composer Emily Klassen effectively utilized audio to amplify the actors’ performances. The soundtrack adds to the gloomy and sentimental atmosphere of the entire film. Piano chords evoke feelings of sentimentality while amplifying the beauty of parenthood between Claire and Brian. Lower bass sounds and gentle chimes remind viewers of the futuristic setting. Without a doubt, the balance between silence and sound also complements the dialogue between characters.

Needless to say, the cast’s performance also brought the script to life. Stephenson as Claire engagingly portrays a mother’s emotional distress during unplanned parenthood. While Anthony Massullo, who plays the father, Brian, creates a believable performance of conflict and frustration. The balance between sentimental moments verses verbally intense scenes helps to keep viewers engaged.

Appropriate for the serious underlying theme, another notable aspect is the film’s atmosphere. The overall somber mood is enhanced with the film’s colour scheme. It goes without saying that the film definitely will not appeal to fans of vibrant and artistic colours. Even though the light colour scheme of greys and blues does not visually stimulate viewers, it is appropriate for the dark topic at hand.  

Lovers of computer graphics, stunts and visual effects will not be as impressed with this short sci-fi film. Instead of impressive robotic and alien creature design, Chen aimed for the piece to be a “soft sci-fi with minimal scientific depiction.” There are no clear visual depictions that the story takes place in the far future. The medical technology in the film gives off a modern rather than futuristic feel. Nevertheless, the real life social issue addressed in this film makes up for the lack of visual effects. It is the dialogue between the characters that hints the change of norms formed by futuristic technologies.

Whether or not Chen intended for the film to advocate or denounce the creation of genetically modified human embryos is unclear. But rather, the film is a plausible illustration of the bioethical discussion behind the futuristic technology. It weighs both the benefits and the consequences of tampering with human genetics.

Off-screen, the fictitious situation presented in the film is getting closer to becoming a reality. Mimicry is definitely memorable for its convincing depiction of a real bioethical issue. Chen and Simmons have done a perfect job in addressing the ethics of advanced medical technology by bringing the reality of the situation to a live-action short.  

“I wanted to make something different, something international that the audience in North America can also relate to,” said Chen. “Genetic engineering is not just happening in China, but all over the world.”

Mimicry first premiered on May 7 at the Ryerson University Film Festival. A viral page was created to let fans experience the film’s fictional IVF technology. To learn more, donate or purchase a copy of the full film, visit here.


All images courtesy of William Ukoh – Director of Photography