And so begins an era of remote filmmaking. The pandemic has forced isolation upon us, limited our resources, and driven us mad at points – all themes in Matthew Butler-Hart’s thought-provoking lockdown project Infinitum: Subject Unknown. What’s become more apparent during these trying times, is creators’ abilities to flesh out a concept without a big budget and heavy tech attached – much like Rob Savage’s Host. If anything, lockdown has stripped back filmmaking to its core, and proven that successful features stem simply from an idea.
Matthew Butler-Hart co-wrote Infinitum with his wife Tori, who also stars as the feature’s lead character. The neat narrative revolves around Jane – a.k.a. subject unknown – who wakes up into her very own Groundhog Day. From the opening interview scenes – with Conleth Hill’s Professor Aaron Östergaard and a joyful Sir Ian McKellen cameo – it quickly becomes clear that Jane is part of an experiment. As her surroundings and circumstances expand with every reset, so do our theories on what’s going on, assuming for the most part that we’re going to meet some logical conclusion.
Infinitum’s backdrop is the deserted suburbs of London, with a brief passing through the main city. The outside world has felt very alien this past year, and Butler-Hart’s feature resembles that. Shot entirely on an iPhone, Butler-Hart took advantage of lockdown and wished to test the boundaries of phone technology. It was a fair experiment to conduct, as the pandemic restricted virtually any gathering of people, thus eliminating the chance to work with a crew. The knowledge that Infinitum was shot with only Matthew and Tori present on set – with other crew members adding to the post-production process remotely – adds to its individuality. The feature is a quiet slow burner, much like lockdown itself, and comes across as a passion project for the couple.
Tori Butler-Hart carries a comforting presence on-screen, despite her inexperience showing at points, but her skills as an actor truly shine when she’s showing vulnerability. Jane often goes through a cycle of determination, cockiness, fear, and futility, which Tori Butler-Hart captures accurately. Infinitum does, at points, feel like an amateur film that could star your high school English teacher, but its rudimentary execution is somewhat refreshing to see in an age of superheroes and intense CGI technology. The human element in today’s film market often gets buried under visual grandeur. However, the Butler-Harts present a relatable experience within a dusting of something called the “Paraverse.”
The sci-fi’s technical beats are considered, using opening interviews to tee up exposition – similar to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Editing is important in telling this “never-ending” story, and repeated events appear relatively fresh, which is crucial for momentum. The over all pacing feels sluggish at times and the third act suffers after its prolonged arrival, but it is quickly realigned when the endgame is in sight. Butler-Hart’s handheld recording is effective in giving a sense of being watched throughout the condensed 86-minute runtime. The feature is technically a short, however, because Infinitum was not intended to be a feature-length film, but more an episode to add to the duo’s ongoing anthology of joint projects.
Its premise is reminiscent of Black Mirror’s White Bear episode, waking up alone in a deserted city and gradually becoming aware of surrounding threats. The ever-present tone is rather dream-like, and this reflects in Jane’s attitude and decision-making which periodically detracts from the tension. Infinite loops and the exploration of choice and intuition are documented, but Jane’s critical thinking often undermines the audience’s own form of problem solving – which occasionally makes it difficult to root for her. Infinitum’s enigma meets resolve by the end, and it’s that raw idea from the twosome that plants a seed for self-exploration later on.
Ben Honeyball’s visual effects are minimal but noteworthy in creating the somewhat futuristic setting in which Infinitum takes place. Blimps circling a desaturated sky above glittering skyscrapers paints a stunning, steampunk-esque image early on, aided by Butler-Hart’s cinematography with Paolo Donati. This imagery is brief, but its presence sticks throughout the feature, honing the overbearing eye of Big Brother.
Infinitum: Subject Unknown is a compelling by-product of the pandemic, that showcases the filmmakers’ creativity more than their technical skills. Its pacing often diminishes that intrigue, and Sir Ian McKellen’s cameo provokes a smile instead of adding anything to the narrative. Its core theory will no doubt make great conversation at the dinner table, and that last shot hits hard after a lethargic journey – which is worth sticking around for.
Interview with Matthew Butler-Hart and Tori Butler-Hart about their previous feature film – the Greek myth/Scottish folklore based The Isle – Click Here