It seems almost absurd to set a 10-minute live-action short film into the frenzied post-Kennedy Assassination world, but that's exactly what happens with writer/director Angad Aulakh's paranoia-fueled The Atomic Dream. The film tells the story of Frank (Guy Kent), his estranged mother-in-law Sophia (Marchand Storch), and a curiously compelling teddy bear named Rodney with whom Sophia has an obsessive fascination.
A darkly comical, sci-fi tinged period short, The Atomic Dream amps up a timely paranoia in a film that looks and feels like we've been plopped down in the middle of the early days after Kennedy was assassinated and the entire world was wondering what would happen next. Lensing by Emmy® Award-winning cinematographer Charlie Wuppermann (Kedi) is sublime, a unique concoction of rich humanity and otherworldly fantasy. As the story unwinds, it's as if Wuppermann's camera literally comes to life and becomes a character all its own. The original score by Tim Despic is similarly inspired, simultaneously playful and anxiety-inducing. Even as the film winds down, the integration of Margaret Lewis and Grace Tennessee's tune "Lovers Land" is the ultimate touch of perfection.
The chemistry between Kent and Storch is strong, undeniable hints of tension coupled with familiarity and moments of discomfort. The immersion of Rodney into this scenario at first elicits an uncomfortable giggle before spiraling into something much more.
Aulakh, an Indian-American filmmaker, is an alum of Ryan Murphy's Half Initiative that seeks to empower diverse/minority voices in film and television. Aulakh's magic here is strong as The Atomic Dream not only vividly captures the period in which it's set but has an undeniable connection to these very times. The Atomic Dream had its U.S. premiere at the IFS Los Angeles Film Festival and has picked up 22 awards along its festival journal before a recent theatrical run for an Oscar® -qualifying engagement.
The Atomic Dream is a strange little cinematic creature, beautifully and vividly realized by Aulakh with just the right amount of delirium, paranoia, truthfulness, and reality. It's funny until it's not and off-kilter the entire way. Guy Kent is seemingly the voice of reason here against the apparent lunacy that has become Sophia, though watching their transformations unfold over the course of the film's 10-minute running time is an absolute, well, blast.
With eyes set on an awards season run, The Atomic Dream is a nostalgic journey through paranoia and cultural uncertainty.