Written by Burl on September 11th, 2009

It’s been a couple of days since I saw Shane Acker’s debut film “9,” but I’ve had to mull upon it. It’s one of those films that sucks you in completely, wholeheartedly, into a dark, scary, fantastical world, although afterwards it seems to gang a-gley. Was it really simple as all that? It all seemed so real at the moment, although clearly it was not.
It is best described as a steampunk fever dream, with its own logic and perspective.
Acker pumped this concept up from a student film he made that was nominated for an Academy award. A little person awakens. He’s made of a bit of burlap, a zipper and camera-shutter eyes. He’s tiny. A human being, gigantic, lays dead on the floor, rotting. Outside, we recognize what remains of what was once a human world, now devastated into a smoking ruin.
The little creation has “9″ lettered on his back. He discovers that 1 through 8 are just like him, tiny sad sacks of ennui, hiding in a small community. But there are robot killers out there in the ruins as well. Dangerous, scary robots.
The entire film takes place within a few hundred feet, but it a massive place to the burlap people, rotting debris and shredded detritus from what was left of civilization. The burlap people don’t know how they got there, nor what allows them to live and think, but they do. They have to venture out into the darkness that is their tiny universe, picking up clues and fighting for survival.
If it all sounds like a meditation on existentialism wrapped in plot devices from a solve-the-clue-to-advance computer game, you’re on to Acker’s scheme. “9″ is a sequencing of tests for the little folk, like the labors of Hercules, except that these creatures are tiny as mice — and often photographed scurrying like mice. It gets rather metaphysical at the conclusion, but satisfyingly so. And the parallels to Nazi death camps and the horrifying destruction of cities during World War II are there without being clumsy
“9″ is being generalized as a film with great visuals but a weak plot. Certainly, the visuals are downright amazing, and Acker’s editing choreography is muscular and assured, and the sound work and score are fabulous as well. But I rather liked the script, the tentative, parrying nature of the burlap people. It makes spaces for patrons to interpret instead of having everything explained to them.
We project into the movie instead of having it project on us. Neat trick.


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