It only took a few minutes of research into the world of writer/director Tim Earnheart to discover that the sci-fi/thriller is his thing and The Institute, a mysterious organization offering individually tailored experiences of sorts, is a familiar setting for the imaginative filmmaker. In this film, Nemesis, Earnheart introduces us to Astrid Patel (Esha More) and Evelyn Kwon (Joy Park), two college pals turned ultra-successful CEOs gathered over drinks at some techno-seedy joint celebrating a merger between their two companies that has left the two both incredibly, incredibly wealthy.
Of course, there's a hitch. Astrid has screwed over her BFF in the merger and left it pretty clear she's the cream who will be rising to the top. Evelyn isn't exactly in the mood to forgive and forget and celebrate her instant wealth. When the conversation turns to a "invitation only" hunting club of which Evelyn is a member, Astrid's curiosity gets the best of her.
The world created by Earnheart is stylish and menacing, a world that exists somewhere between Saw and The Hunger Games where there's never any doubt that not everything's right but you never quite know exactly what's going to happen over the course of the film's 17-minute running time. Earnheart tells his story quickly, S. Joe Downing's Dr. Woo ratcheting up the tension and never letting go. Downing has three roles in the film, all pulled off convincingly, while Ayuba Audu also pulls off the character trifecta.
More plays Astrid as a bold and brash businesswoman, a woman who wants to play with the big boys and who is willing to do pretty much anything to get herself there. She justifies betraying her friend easily, the millions in profits deemed a sufficient enough peace offering. As Evelyn Kwon, Joy Park initially comes off as quieter, a little more timid yet resolved in a way that makes you absolutely know there's a whole lot more going on inside her than that which is being expressed. The film's style is almost remiscent of Tron, though the experience that unfolds at The Institute is far more threatening and relentless. It's the experience itself that is the film's greatest selling point, a thrilling adventure with just the right amounts of horror. Matt Fleming's lensing for the film is jarring and fun to watch, while Diana Martinez's production design is immersive and enveloping. The visual effects, especially for a lower-budgeted sci-fi short, are quite impressive.
Nemesis was only recently completed and is getting set for its indie festival run. It's an interesting time to hit the fest circuit given the impact of Covid-19 on the festival world and the world in general, but one can only hope Nemesis gets the wider audience that it so richly deserves.