The short film DOPPELBÄNGER by Sofian Khan is a monochromatic future where we really are beholden to our technology.
More a proof of concept than an actual short story, DOPPELBÄNGER works brilliantly in that it leaves you wanting more. When I say more, I mean much, much more. The standalone piece also serves as a storyboard for the larger series Autom Reign currently being developed. The eight-part first season is precisely the kind of genre programming a hungry audience would clammer for. Khan’s writing is relatable, funny, and deeply resonant. Hopefully, the right eyes will land on this short with high potential.
The part Twilight Zone, part Black Mirror short looks and feels like a throwback to George Orwell’s 1984. A fascinating melding of retro technology comingles with Jetson’s age future tech in a way similar to It Follows’ use of set design to create a timeless quality to the film. Low budget doesn’t have to look cheap, and Khan and his team developed a world that is slick and similar enough to be unsettling.
Set in a future world where humans are rapidly being replaced by doppelsynths in the workforce and in general, George, a struggling writer is trying to tap into the last vestige of humanity. The arts haven’t been conquered by the doppelsynths yet. He thinks it is his last chance to make a mark. In almost every other way the synthetic versions of ourselves are better. They are more efficient, follow rules without questions, and are smarter than us. Feeling forgotten and alone George hires a robot prostitute for some relief. When our sexually frustrated protagonist has an encounter with a reprogrammed sexbot that doesn’t go as planned he must hide the bot from his own synth or risk the consequences.
It’s not explicitly explained who is monitoring our citizens, nor is it explained what will happen if George is found out but it probably isn’t good. This world-building is just the sort of thing that could be expanded in a larger series. A burgeoning black market trade has programmers repurposing their synths for the sex trade. The problem is the bots don’t always take to their new code. When the robot crashes during a sexual interlude he has no choice but to call for help.
The sexbot’s owner and George end up having a strange but undeniably sparky connection. Both of them know there is chemistry despite the bizarre way they have met. With humanity becoming increasingly fragmented it’s important to cherish every chance encounter no matter how odd. Gibson Frazier(George) and Annapurna Sriram(Cecilia) combined with the tiny one set location is proof that huge soundstages and massive budgets aren’t needed to create a compelling genre story.
Oddly comedic, this is a sci-fi story that asks big questions but doesn’t make you wallow in negativity. The world has become(many could argue becoming) a progressively lonely place. Isolated and obsolete humans instinct for survival and connection remains strong. Shot almost entirely in black and white, the short feels like it is from a bygone era—one where sci-fi, comedy, and noir can meld seamlessly.
This is a short slice of fun that leaves you begging for more. If you are only going to watch one short, DOPPELBÄNGER is the one to watch. You can catch it as part of Fantasia Fest on-demand coverage, which is happening now until September 2nd, 2020. Find all our Fantasia Fest coverage here.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.