EIFF Review: Scintilla

British horror is not particularly good at hitting the middle ground – it normally finds itself at either extreme end of the quality spectrum: from painfully awful to groundbreakingly brilliant. Sitting comfortably at the low-end of this spectrum is sci-fi horror Scintilla.

Scintilla follows a group of mercenaries tasked with infiltrating a subterranean military research facility. However, there they uncover far more gruesome horrors than they were expecting.

Three ingredients which normally make a good sci-fi or horror film are tension, scares or disturbing imagery, and at the very least a self-aware humour. If one of these factors is missing, proceedings are usually redeemable thanks to either of the other two. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve seen a horror film that does not successfully scare but provides enough fun in the ridiculousness of its core concept. Sadly, Scintilla is a po-faced snoozefest that lacks tension, scares and altogether takes itself far too seriously.

Director Billy O’Brien spends far too much time setting the story up with drab shots of the mercenaries trudging through the woods and the ultimately sneaking into the bunker. This is not the sort of set-up that builds on the weight upcoming proceedings, it’s just useless time-consuming fluff. By the time the ‘horror’ arrives it is too little too late and viewer interest is likely to be at a minimum.

The labyrinthine bunker should be an impressive and atmospheric setting (films like Outpost and Resident Evil have shown this) but Scintilla makes little use of this. Instead it’s a drab canvas for the film to exercise its abundance of generic horror tropes – from monsters that look like flies in seventies space suits (classic Doctor Who eat your heart out) to scheming double-crossing mercenaries that can be spotted a mile-off. A bizarre alien birth subplot shifts the tone and adheres to more tired clichés (think Splice).

Intriguing elements do creep in and out of Scintilla. A grand red ballroom turned medical facility is a suitably creepy and visually impressive setting that gives off certain Bioshock vibes. There is also some slight interest found in war-torn Eastern European setting, but even this lacks any real depth past surface level.

Scintilla is drab, humourless science fiction-horror at its worst. With a lack of imagination or visual spark, it is another forgettable footnote in the world of British genre cinema.

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