Scintilla (2014)

The poster fails to capture how creepy the dude's clustered mini-eyes actually are.
The poster fails to capture how creepy the dude’s clustered mini-eyes actually are.

“Born beneath the surface”

Directed by Billy O’Brien
Starring John Lynch, Morjana Alaoui, Antonia Thomas and Beth Winslet

Aka The Hybrid, but not to be confused with Super Hybrid, which is about a killer electric car.

An elite mercenary team of British character actors are sent into the former Soviet Republic of Whereinthehell; their mission is to infiltrate a research laboratory protected, for no adequately explored reason, by Ossetian separatists, to retrieve the test subjects from the lab and ‘neutralise’ the scientists.

Retrieved from an African prison, team leader Jim Powell (Lynch) is a weary veteran, without the ruthlessness of his corporate employer Healy (Alaoui). When they find that the ‘subjects’ are half-human, half-alien hybrids created by Dr Irvine (Winslet) he and his sniper, Steinmann (Thomas) have second thoughts. Even when one of the hybrids, a boy named Goethe, escapes on a bloody rampage, Healy remains determined to sacrifice whoever she must to secure her prize.

What’s wrong with it?

The team is among the least convincing elite mercenary outfits I’ve ever seen, riddled with internal divisions and crippled by crises of conscience. On the other hand, it does appear that they were hired because they are cheap and expendable.

The terrorists are almost an afterthought, and I suspect that a shortage of convincing Madeupistani uniforms may have prompted a last minute switch from professional soldiers to a rag-tag militia led by a biker chick in a skull mask, bizarrely determined to defend a genetic hybridisation research programme despite showing a penchant for ethnic cleansing.

The implication of the film is that the female hybrid has been artificially inseminated with her brother’s DNA in a form of lab-assisted incest. Oh, and despite looking like teenagers, they’re both five. Ick.

The hybrid appears to be unstoppable because he has a gun that makes heads explode. This adheres to a common movie fallacy that you can’t shoot someone with a better gun than you.

What’s right with it?

The hybrid is creepy as fuck, especially his eyes.

The actors are decent, if bizarrely cast.

How bad is it really?

Much darker and moodier than a SyFy original, Scintilla has a certain grim je ne sais quois.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The exposition of the project, in particular Irvine’s insistence that the hybrids are slow-witted, is played against scenes of Goethe moving about his ‘room’, which make it subtly apparent that he is much smarter and much more subtle than she thinks.

What’s up with…?

  • Goethe’s machete? I get that he built a ray gun that asplodes heads, but somehow I find it weirder that he can slice a dude in half with one blow.
  • The lab’s protocols? They have Goethe in isolation, but flat out fail to monitor him or his interactions with others. Ever.
  • Powell’s sudden refusal to assassinate the scientist? Not that he has qualms, but it was made pretty clear at the get go that he was expected to ‘neutralise’ the research team. Why is it suddenly a shock?

Ratings

Production values – Modest, but mostly competent, although the asplodey heads are a little too obviously fake for the full, visceral impact. (I’m pretty sure they’re CG). 7
Dialogue and performances – It’s not that the performances are bad, just that casting so many veteran, second-banana British TV actors makes me associate the film automatically with gritty social commentary on the plight of the working class, which this ain’t. The dialogue is nothing much to write home about, for better or for worse. 6
Plot and execution – Pretty by the numbers ‘op gone bad’ stuff in the Predator mould (complete with the whole ‘my team are not assassins’ bit.) The opening is a little too slow, however, and the second section rushed; perhaps as a result of the effects budget. 11
Randomness – The ethnic-cleansing Ossetian terrorist genetic research institute, run by an angry, Georgian-hating biker chick and a defected Cambridge biologist, is pretty damned random. 12
Waste of potential – Maybe I’ve become jaded watching too many SyFy Originals, but this was pretty good by its lights. 4

Overall 40%

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