A catastrophic incident has occurred at Vostok Station in Antarctica, leaving almost everyone dead. Bandaged but still badly injured, the disaster’s sole survivor makes his way through the desolate polar wilderness, trying to find some kind of help or human contact.
He makes his way to a convoy of freight vessels, hoping to find some human presence. But the ships are burning, dashing his hopes for rescue. At his lowest point, however, he experiences a mystical moment of transporting beauty that blurs the line between fantasy and reality.
Writer-director Dylan Pharazyn’s visionary sci-fi short is ruthlessly elegant in almost every aspect, with no dialogue and only the most stripped-down narrative to develop and follow. There is only one character, and he has one aim: to get help and stay alive.
But in terms of visuals, the short is richly conceived and often astonishing, capturing both the epic, raw and desolate icy wasteland of Antarctica and the paranormal apocalyptic inner fantasia of the main character as he is on the verge of despair and annihilation.
The film’s stream of images — as well as the excellent, disquieting ambient score — communicates and conveys the extremity of both the environment and the survivor’s life-or-death situation. The antagonist here is the unforgiving polar landscape, and it is rendered here with brutal majesty, with images that capitalize on film’s primal power to transport viewers to a place almost beyond most people’s imaginings.
The film’s main thrust, however, occurs as the disaster survivor experiences a vision of strange, mesmerizing crystalline beauty as he realizes the dire nature of his situation. Beautiful and hypnotic, it’s as if the snow and ice of Antarctica enlarged itself to dominant proportions and taken over the man’s consciousness to an almost phantasmagoric level. This reverie pushes the boundaries of visual imagination, creating an oddly captivating idyll of pure visual music for both the man and the viewer.
Whether it’s another dimension opening up or the last visions of a man between the realms of life and death is up to interpretation. But no matter what the conclusion, it lingers well past the ending of the film. Though it’s only eight minutes, the short has the impact of a much longer film, thanks to the densely imagined world it evokes and the power of its visual bravura.
Filmed on Mount Ruapehu in New Zealand, “Vostok Station” was a rare sci-fi selection for Sundance Film Festival, and also a significant technical accomplishment, with its combination of stunning photography and virtuosic post-production work. On a creative level, the short pushes the short film format and is almost experimental in its painterly approach to visual effects.
But it is also that most classical of stories: man vs. nature. But “Vostok Station” leverages the unique power of cinematic craftsmanship to evoke a view of nature at its most extreme and inhospitable to human presence. Then, placing its sole character within this apocalyptic post-human vista, it then offers a vision at the extremes of human imagination and feeling, one that is intriguing and haunting in its almost spiritual power.