Our world has changed. Lurking behind every corner are a variety of simulations, bright colors and loud noises. People populate all corners of the world and we have devices that allow us to communicate with each and every one of them. We are definitely not alone. With this changing world, threats to our society are growing each year. It’s only a matter of time before a threat is so large that the only solution is to lock ourselves away in hopes to barricading ourselves to continue into the future.
Nathaniel Atcheson’s new film “Domain,” which screened at the Other Worlds Austin Film Festival this past weekend, explores what isolation and freedom mean when the world around you is collapsing.
“Domain” revolves around seven lottery winners who secured one of the 500,000 underground bunkers the government built to save humanity from a devastating virus that is killing millions. Positioned all around the world, and using their location as their name. These survivors; Phoenix (Britt Lower), Denver (Ryan Merriman), Orlando (Kevin Sizemore), Boston (William Gregory Lee), Houston (Nick Gomez), Atlanta (Sonja Sohn) and Chicago (Cedric Sanders); have been paired together to form a community to sustain a normal life while the world heals itself, or so they hope.
The audience joins these characters early on in their introduction to their new isolated lives. While they lead drastically different lives before, these distinctive characters are now sharing one experience. There is something beyond the page when it comes to the intensity of these characters, one that Kevin Sizemore had fun exploring.
“We (the actors) had the opportunity to add nuances to the character, instead of his (Atcheson) being so strict when it came to the character,” Sizemore explained. “You find gold sometimes when you throw spaghetti on the wall.”
Orlando was one of the most intense characters in this community from the get go, never compromising who he was no matter who it upset. He was unapologetic and harsh, which wasdepicted with terrifying effects by Sizemore, who in person is quite the opposite. This duality that was presented through Sizemore was not only a testament to his talent, but to the environment Atcheson established on set.
“That’s what was interesting about the character, I liked that, as an actor. This was the hardest thing I’ve had to do as an actor, mentally, and it was the best thing I’ve ever done because I never had that challenge before. It was fascinating,” Sizemore said.
The film is shot unlike other survival movies, for it showcases each surviver in their own bunker with computer screens of each other. It’s a seven person group chat, which no one was really ever able to disconnect for long. Everything is documented, and Atcheson chose to film as close to the visual representation on film as he could. With one master shot, the POV shot if you will, several other Go-Pros were positioned throughout the set. Nothing was hidden, and all actions were available for capture.
This was such a unique experience for the actors, as Britt Lower explains: “Our relationship to the screen was very different then the typical film shoot because you are looking directly into the camera. The film was so much about the persona you present to that screen,” she said. “You realize you get so much more information from someone’s body language in real life than you do from a screen. That was such a revelation for me as an actor, and as a human.”
The idea of the genuine meaning of isolation is tested throughout the film. In the terms of technology, these characters lives were taped 24/7, allowing them to never truly be alone. However, the lack of physical communication, the sense of isolation is magnified.
“I was thinking about the approach to the character and the depravation of organic pleasure, there is no substitution for the real thing,” Lower added.
That added an opportunity to start your story, so to speak, within physical isolation, the story of “Domain” becomes an intricate web of ideas. Does this isolation allow a person to be free because they can hide behind their screens and start anew or because they don’t have to pretend who they are in fear of offending the person next to them?
This idea played directly into the relationship established between Lower’s Phoenix and Ryan Merriman’s Denver. These are two people who have formed an intense bond during a difficult point in our societies history, and the idea that they have become something more than just a community is comforting. With all the other layers floating around the film, however, you begin to question the sincerity of the relationship between these two.
“It’s the toughest tone to nail in the movie. Everyone else wants to be honest, on some level,” Atcheson said.
“All of the characters are struggling with a duality, except the struggle between their past and a hope for their future,” Lower said.
“I think there are genuine feelings between these two, and because of that I’m not sure, if given the opportunity, if Denver would fall back into his past characterization,” Merriman added.
With the introspection into the characters relationship, Sizemore was also able to conclude that, “attention become diverted (from the true identity of these characters) when you focus on what is actually keeping us all here.”
Atcheson was very specific when it came to each character and the region they hailed from. Each character has elements that are prominent in their city of origin, but intense detail was paid to each person so you knew there was a reason for each one being there.
“We were very race and gender specific with our casting choices. I really want people to be empathetic, and my goal is to have people think about the situation as a whole and the consequences,” Atcheson said. “Even though they fight and are a weird vaguely unlikeable family, you still kind of like them.”
Throughout the film, there never was a question of whether you liked these characters, instead you thrived to be more connected to them. The isolation that they experience, and the audience feels, resinated in a way that allows for breaks into the reality of the story at hand. There is something more than what is being portrayed on screen, and even after several viewings, you aren’t sure where you stand.
For more information on other screenings and distribution, please visit the films official page DOMAIN THE MOVIE.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images courtesy of DomainTheMovie.com