So Unreal Delves Into Technology in Movies and Life [Fantastic Fest ’23]

So Unreal still of blue face.

So Unreal, playing at Fantastic Fest, explores the joys and, moreso, the fears of technology and movies as a conduit for those anxieties. Using well-known science fiction films like Tron, The Matrix, and more obscure movies like Looker, it weaves a chilling yet enchanting timeline. It shows that new films often depict worries explored in far older pictures. The fear of immoral corporations controlling tech is here. In addition, sentient technology feels imminent. Through clips and Debbie Harry’s (Blondie) soothing voice echoing like an omniscient being, So Unreal crafts a bewitching, inescapable world of sci-fi cinema and societal glitches.

Directed by Amanda Kramer and written by Kramer and Britt Brown, the documentary begins aptly with a brief breakdown of The Matrix. That is understandable, given the scope and themes explored. Harry’s voice draws parallels between Neo’s mundane, hollow life and the lives of countless others. Then, it takes viewers back to the origins of computers in cinema. These films posed different questions and possible outcomes of technological futures. Often, science fiction is technology not created yet. From augmented realities to AI characters to technology replacing workers to nuclear armageddon, the documentary threads the connection between then and now. Some films do not age well, but their concepts still hold weight.

So Unreal Breaks Down Computers in Movies

It talks about the opposing fears explored in cinema. AI destruction at the helm of greedy individuals. Corporations paving the way for artificial intelligence aware of its existence. Intelligence that goes on to and see humans as a threat remains a worry. Through the narrator briefly critiquing the movies and tying it in with larger looming fears of technology run amok, So Unreal documents the foreboding, enlightening, and, at times, prophetic nature of science fiction films. Fans of the genre will cheer whenever a beloved flick pops up unexpectedly. However, this documentary is digestible and engaging for the average viewer.

Unrealistic fears merge with looming threats. So, for the average person, it’s hard to disseminate in these films what is possible, even probable. Many are already present, as So Unreal points out. They did not arrive in the form movies showed.

Internet…The Final Frontier

So Unreal still of a processor chip with blue wiring spreading out like tendrils.
So Unreal still. Fantastic Fest ’23.

The writing in So Unreal is astounding and captivating. Debbie Harry’s voice is everything. It’s a personal highlight, adding hipness, when the documentary discusses hackers. It shows clips from movies like Sneakers, The Net, and Hackers. The Net harnessed the terror of identity theft before it became far more common. But it highlights again the danger of who holds the reigns of this amoral technology. A tech that may not be amoral but made with capture in mind.

I love the last movie, Hackers, for its content, Angelina Jolie—the first movie I saw her in—and its techno soundtrack and underground style. I still remember The Hacker’s Manifesto! The comparison between the vast, unexplored world of the internet as a trial and error realm. One where no elders existed to guide hackers. The youthful depiction of hackers questioning authority and belief in transparency brought a coolness that made everyone want to join.

Out of the chapters, the one on cybersex was flat. But that’s because the sound design and visuals in that section felt grating. Aside from that, So Unreal is a rewatchable documentary. It touches on AI, virtual reality, cyborgs, and the internet. Plus, there’s nothing like a documentary that highlights parts of your favorite films. It’s like being in community from the comfort of home. Debbie Harry feels essential as her voice has a surreal quality. So Unreal pulls in movie fans, sci-fi fans, and documentary buffs and merges it, charting the evolution of technological science fiction and films exploring it for a spellbinding viewing experience.

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