“Do you feel it, your stomach curdles, your vision warps, your limbs, they cease to feel like your own… Fear.”
From the director Nik Kacevski comes the short film Soulmate, a dystopian sci-fi, thriller and coming-of-age story all rolled into one. Shot in Bulgaria during the winter and set in a world with too little resources to sustain its population, this is Hunger Games meets Hostel.
Thirteen year old Mila, played by Holly May Lewis, moves into a rundown apartment. Alone, there is nothing much in this place, except a wooden square table and a single bed. Mouldy and gloomy, newspapers plaster the windows while air and light are blocked out. Though unassuming, Mila―with rosy cheeks and a red beanie―is not the archetypal ‘girl in distress.’ Oh no.
She is, in fact, plotting and biding her time, planning her survival in this world of hyperbolic desperation, starvation and poverty.
Each day, Mila studies a creased map and reads details of her ‘soulmate’. She follows instructions from her father―a mere voice on the other end of a phone call. And at night, ever vigilant, she keeps a knife handy, ready and waiting, to fight any possible threat that comes her way.
For outside the climate is wild, streets loaded with dirty snow and desperate people. There is a resource shortage. To rectify this problem, the government has implemented a drastic, sadistic measure to reduce the population.
The solution: Two ‘soulmates’ are matched for the purpose of killing each other. This is survival of the fittest in its purest form―kill or be killed.
Will Mila fight or die?
With gritty visuals and shrewd sounds, Kacevski traps viewers into this ominous horror. He uses heavy chords to sustain pressure, off-key bass to rumble stomachs, and eerie howls to rattle nerves. And all the while, he keeps death ever-looming—nuclear reactors billowing smoke oh so subtly in the distant background, and government drones flying overhead, warning of imminent disaster. Bulky and brutal, they are a reminder of the severe control the government wields over its citizens.
This film is fifteen minutes of non-stop cinema suspense, without ever feeling rushed or forced. Kacevski perfectly balances the pace of the high-tension, danger-filled scenes when Mila dares to brave the cruel reality outside her apartment door with slow, contemplative moments. Mila’s struggle poses the question ‘how much bloodshed can be justified for our personal survival?’
By forcing audiences to consider the lengths we will go to in order to guarantee our safety and survival, Soulmate issues viewers a warning. It cautions that many of the decisions we as a society make now will lead to a future in which we will be forced to ask these questions of ourselves. The two factors that pose a threat to the population within the film (apart from their own neighbours) are issues we already see impacting our societies around the globe. Harsh, almost uninhabitable climates and food shortages leading to hunger, starvation and death are almost too commonplace in the six o’clock news. This film succeeds at what any dystopia aims to do: warn of the dangers today’s actions will have on the future of our world. The desperate and sadistic world of Soulmate is one that all audiences will instinctively object to, shy away from and criticise, which is why the film is so successful at opening our eyes. It reveals the true consequences of our choices and the impact they might have on the lives of generations to come.
The information withheld from us throughout the film engages the audience and makes us especially wary of a society in which we know so little. How are the ‘soulmates’ chosen? Are they actually pairs of people who are ‘meant to be’, pitted against one another? If so, why do the citizens choose to murder the one person in the world who could make them happy? What happens to those who may refuse to take part in such a monstrous act? Is the ‘soulmates’ system a worldwide phenomenon, or just isolated to a select few countries or communities? These questions and more remained circulating in my head for days after viewing, continuing the film’s impact on my thoughts.
While being a bleak and horrific story of survival, Soulmate is also a brave and daring coming-of-age story. It depicts one girl’s journey to become a fully-fledged member of a society, huddled against a harsh and frosty climate. The crowdsourced Thanos-like solution to resource scarcity, coupled with deep and solemn moments of contemplation make it a short film that is difficult to forget. Its duality and incredibly thought-provoking storyline make it a film I could recommend to anyone and everyone.