Hostile Dimensions review at FrightFest: Scary, funny sci-fi on a budget

Much like writer/director Graham Hughes’ previous feature Death of a Vlogger (2019), Hostile Dimensions begins with intradiegetic camerawork, as unseen cameraman Brian follows graffiti artist Emily (Josie Rogers) into an abandoned building where they discover a door and frame standing bizarrely in the middle of an otherwise empty, dilapidated room. Distracted by a noise, Brian turns the camera away for a moment, and by the time he has turned it back, Emily has vanished screaming into thin air. Brian points the camera at the now open door, and a red-eyed monster appears on the other side.

At this point the film becomes both literal found footage and screenlife, as we realise we have been watching, along with Sam Shields (Annabel Logan) and Ash Shah (Joma West), a clip of Brian’s video published online. “I think that’s our new film,” says Sam, who acknowledges that the footage looks like a prank, but also points out that Emily has been missing for a month since. After the failure of their last documentary, Sarah can see something “more marketable” in this mystery, as though a new door were opening for these filmmaking friends.

Indeed, just as Brian’s film had seemed to feature a portal to another world, Sarah and Ash’s film – which has already started, given that they record everything and what we are seeing is what they are shooting – also contains screens and windows, on phones and computers, to other people’s footage and the other worlds which that footage contains. It is all very involuted, but the warning here is constant: be careful what you open, and who – or what – you might let in.

The door and frame from the abandoned building are brought into the living room of Sam’s flat, soon to be opened and even tentatively entered by the two women as they try to find and rescue Emily. Discovering miracles and monsters – Sam’s dead mother still very much alive, a talking dog, a panda “that just shoots spikes out of its hands” – they realise that they are out of their depth, and turn for help to the lecturer Dr Innis (Paddy Kondracki). Soon all three of them are navigating a doorway to multiple possible worlds, as they both pursue and are pursued by another interdimensional traveller (Hughes himself) through more than one portal, while trying to keep a god-sent apocalypse from overwhelming their own world.

Pitting women’s solidarity and creative energy against a toxically masculine impulse to destroy, Hostile Dimensions imagines a series of mirror worlds – some frightening, others appealing, all fanciful – and lets its misfit characters try to find not just a missing person or persons, but also their own place in the multiverse. As such, it is a little bit like Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022), and a little bit like James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence (2014), revealing lives where flaws are ever present, and perfection is a fantasy just on the other side of screen or door. Told in nine formally headed chapters plus an epilogue, this is scary, funny sci-fi on a budget, conjuring surreal, literally otherwordly cosmoses while anchoring everything to the mundanities of the Scottish everyday.

“You do not know existential pain,” Sam will say, “until you’ve produced a film.” She is no doubt speaking for Hughes too, but when the results are as chaotically compelling as this, perhaps all that grief and anguish come with their own rewarding teleology in shifting our perceptions, realising the imaginary and – maybe just maybe – changing the world.

Hostile Dimensions has its world première at FrightFest 2023. Find more reviews at SciFiNow.

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