The new sci-fi short SEAM by Master Key Films packs a lot of action into its 20:45 run time. Set in a near future world where humanoid machines live among us, its opening minutes track the history of the robots rebellion, the subsequent war that happens and finally the fragile peace that is established in its aftermath.
It’s a classic sci-fi setup, one you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever seen a little film called Terminator or a show called Battlestar Galactica. In SEAM, the machines, which look just like humans based on their physical appearance, become unwitting suicide bombers when their “synthetics begin spontaneously exploding” (according to the film’s Youtube page-the science of what is happening is never really explained). An opening scene shows what we assume is a family-all of them distraught as the woman and child leave the man behind, only to see him burst into flames against his will , killing dozens of innocent bystanders a few minutes later. With that, the link between human life and these machines – integral, but also tenuous and possibly deadly-is firmly established.
In the story that follows, the setting is easily recognizable to anyone following current geopolitical crisis. A militarized border zone (called “the seam”, where the film gets its name) surrounds a desert territory that has been set aside for the machines and is reminiscent of similar war-torn areas around the world. A crowded bazaar, women wearing headscarves and traditional music all nod to the Middle East. By using such parallels, the filmmakers surely wanted viewers to see a comparison between this fictional dystopia and the conflicts that exist in our real world, where wars are fought and borders are drawn based on religious and ethnic differences rather than that between man and machine.
SEAM‘s last 10 minutes are heavy on chases, explosions and hand to hand combat. While some of the effects work better than others, what kept me watching was the human connection. At the center of all the action is another couple (this time she’s the machine) trying to make their way unnoticed into the safe zone while being hunted by a human military force. Their emotional connection and concern for each other becomes the crux of the film. The story’s progression doesn’t always make complete sense – if she’s just trying to go back to where the robots are allowed to live, why don’t they let her? Are human-machine couples what’s prohibited? Why does becoming emotional make the machines explode any way? But the pace of the plot is enough to keep you wondering what’s going to happen next.
With visuals inspired by sci-fi cannon like Blade Runner and Mad Max, SEAM is able do a good amount of world building in relatively short time. Rather than relying on exposition, it throws you into a story that has both exciting and tender moments. Those moments add up to the question writers and filmmakers have posed for decades if not longer – what does it mean to be human after all.