The concept is simple enough: An astronaut prematurely wakes up from cryosleep during a deep space mission to find that things have gone horribly wrong. With such cliched cinematic territory, it takes a skilled director to make the premise feel fresh. Enter indie filmmaker/futurist Nguyen-Anh Nguyen and his latest project, Hyperlight. Taking place in the year 2085, humanity has finally figured out how to travel faster than the speed of light, allowing people to traverse the stars in our own galaxy and beyond. "Hyperlight" is the term used for the state in which a ship is traveling faster than light like warp speed in Star Trek or hyperspace in Star Wars.
"I first had the idea with my DP Simran Dewan, when we heard about Lockheed Martin working on the prototype for a fusion reactor back in 2015. We talked about how that could help achieve Faster-Than-Light space travel and how it could potentially change everything, if Relativity was affected," Nguyen told SYFY WIRE. Bringing screenwriter Nicolas Billon aboard really helped condense these massive scientific concepts into a short film while throwing in one of its most interesting twists.
Jeananne Goossen (Michelle on The Walking Dead) stars as Emiliana Newton, an astronaut dealing with strange circumstances when her and her partner's (Peter Shinkoda, aka Nobu of the Hand on Netflix's Daredevil) cryopods are ejected from the main ship. In the tense opening minutes that bring to mind the nail-biting nature of Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity, she manages to get back onboard where things only get stranger. Nguyen said he was also influenced by Alien and Sunshine, which are familiar notes in a film that's still suspenseful, creative, and original in its own right.
"I didn’t want to reference too much [of] 2001: A Space Odyssey, as one can only hope not to copy a masterpiece," wrote the director. "I also wanted to add a bit of my signature Cyberpunk element in the short, for example the gun design she is using is influenced by Blame! - a Japanese anime I adore."
We won't spoil all the twists and turns as the film is just 17-minutes long and you can discover them for yourself by watching Hyperlight on Vimeo below. However, we will say that this is more like what The Cloverfield Paradox should have been before J.J. Abrams got his hands on God Particle.
The result is simple, yet effective and the minimalist approach was deliberate, according to Nguyen.
"One of the main reasons I did Hyperlight, is that Osric Chau, my actor on [The] Akira Project and Temple, told me over coffee that after doing two VFX/action heavy projects, my next film should be a simple one. Maybe two actors in a room or something. So, that’s exactly what I did, only I put them in space for good measure, as I love sci-fi. Therefore the highlight for me on this film is that I was able to bring out two really strong performances from my actors and that at the end of the day it is not just another VFX-heavy sci-fi short, but it’s got a really strong love (yet dark) story to it."
While less than 20 minutes long, the project was a massive undertaking.
"On paper, Hyperlight seemed like an impossible task to achieve on a low budget like ours, but we pulled it off, sometimes inventively, only because these people believed in the final vision," stated the director. "VFX took a long time, over a year from the amazing concept for the spaceship and cryopods, by Alex Figini, to final comp by my friends Santiago Menghini, Greg Ng and Michael Christophersson, amongst others."