Gwen is the lead scientist on a secret experiment to transport humans through space with teleportation. She heads to the rooftop of her building on a smoke break, her mind preoccupied with the newest discoveries in her work and its recent implications.
She encounters Tim, a co-worker she’s never met before, on the rooftop, and as they talk, it becomes clear that a disastrous mistake has been made.
Co-writing and directing team Collin Davis and Matt Litwiller — along with cinematographer Doug Potts — have crafted a unique take on the sci-fi genre. Like many stories in the genre, the writing uses future possible technology as a springboard to explore ideas of what it means to be a human and reach the farther frontiers of knowledge.
But its distinctions focus less on special effects or thriller-like plot manipulation and more on ideas, performance and contemplation. The most prominent element of the short is the long one-take performance shot that the the rest of the film is sculpted around.
Essentially a conversation and a confession, Gwen is haunted by her research, weighed down with the secretive yet profound work. Her co-worker Tim — who works at the same facility — is friendly and easygoing, and his manner gets Anna to open up. As Anna unloads a torrent of ideas, emotions and memories, the handheld camerawork moves around them, capturing the nuances of terrific performances by actors Anna Campbell and Max Lesser with a dynamic mix of push-ins and tracking motions that carves out tension and interest in an essentially stripped-down “takeaway scene” set-up.
There are a few special effects in “Liminal,” and the two sequences that bookend the short’s centerpiece take also gesture at conventions of the genre. And visually its painterly use of light and shadow — as well the eerie sky ambience of emerging night — gives the short an spooky, haunted ambience that reflects its central character’s mindset. The skies are subtly filled with strange, radiating objects, creating a world that’s just slightly, uncannily different and more advanced than our current reality. Where this world is going — and what we gain and lose in the process — becomes the emerging concern, both for Gwen and for us as viewers.
With its emphasis on the consequences of pushing the boundaries of human comprehension — and its haunting effects on those who have to live with those implications — “Liminal” also shows the true cataclysms that threaten humanity aren’t invasions from out there. They’re the ones that humankind creates from going where no one has gone before, a ceaseless quest that pushes forward in sometimes blind, perhaps perilous directions.