BiFan 2024 Review: BASE STATION, Paranoia Reigns in Dystopian Indie Sci-fi from Talent to Watch

Contributor; Seoul, South Korea (@pierceconran)
BiFan 2024 Review: BASE STATION, Paranoia Reigns in Dystopian Indie Sci-fi from Talent to Watch

After impressing many viewers and critics two years ago with his wildly original debut film The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra, Park Syeyoung returns to BiFan with his second feature, Base Station, which he co-directed with artist and filmmaker Yeon Yeji, who has starred in some of Park's other work and also plays the lead here.

In this rural-set, lightly dystopian sci-fi, Eden and her younger brother Hyun-ho have been living an isolated life in the wooded mountains, away from society. Eden insists on this lifestyle as she fears that society's boundless electricity consumption will give them what she calls 'electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome'. But after three years, their quiet and hardy life is interrupted when telecom technicians arrive to install electricity pylons in the mountains and Hyun-ho goes missing.

Whether in his features or his impressive short film work, Park manages to capture images that suggest the presence of something foreboding, omnipresent and intangible. In The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra, it was a communal sense of loneliness in society that manifested itself in the mould in a mattress that turned into a monster as it travelled from one character to the next.

While that film was lyrical and sad, Base Station evokes a paranoid mood. As we get sucked into Eden's fear of the invisible influence of electricity coursing through society, we begin to feel as though those very currents are tingling through our own muscles, like invisible strings tethering us to our manmade surroundings. Helping to achieve this disquieting effect is the film's pulsing and scratchy sound design, as well as brooding images of the dark forest and its pulsing shadows, one of these being a shot that appeared earlier in Park's short film Twilight, which earned a Special Award earlier this year at the Jeonju International Film Festival.

Much like his debut film, which was shot as a short film and became a feature during post-production, Base Station also boasts a svelte running time, clocking in at just over an hour. Unlike the dreamy and changeable The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra, however, Base Station largely sticks to one idea as it focuses on a small group of characters.

What remains the same is the hazy, otherworldly style that relies heavily on post-production effects. Park, who shoots, edits and colour grades his own films, has a disquieting ability to make us feel as though humanity is a soulless beast slowly tearing us apart. There's something about the way he edits his images that gives the impression that his camera was plucked out of the primordial soup. It has always been there, coolly documenting aeons of time, right up to the current follies of humanity.

However, despite its unsettling tone and the innate technical ability on display, Base Station does feel slight when compared to some of the other work that Park and Yeon have been involved in. While the film does have a sense of humour, there isn't much narrative meat to chew on, which wasn't a problem for The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra, which was so clearly a metaphor hopping from one character to the next. The story here is more literal, but lacks a plot to match its ideas.

Though it doesn't quite match the potential of its behind-the-scenes talent and its paranoid ideas, Base Station is a haunting exploration of modern anxieties and social malaise.

The film enjoys its world premiere at the 2024 Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival.

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BiFanKorean indiePark SyeyoungYeon Yeji

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