Australia isn’t well known for its sci-fi films, but it’s clear that with his visionary short film Carmentis, writer-director Antony Webb intends to change that mentality. Made over many years in Perth, this powerful and inventive future-based sci-fi short film focuses on Mac (Ben Mortley), a miner who finds himself in a dire situation on the remote planet Carmentis. With the guidance of his AI voiced suit Eve (Adriane Daff), and the memory and vision of his distant wife Maggie (Jo Morris) ever present to remind him what he’s fighting for, Mac must overcome physical and mental strain to reach safety before the planet freezes over.
With sci-fi films, there can often be a desire to deliver a grander, more action-based story, one that monopolises on the inviting and exciting unknown of space, and builds on the wealth of possibilities that come with space exploration. These are the final frontiers, with the possibilities of unexplored worlds being never ending. While we don’t know what exists on the worlds beyond our reach, our mind has a brilliant way of filling in the gaps, bringing life and vibrancy to areas we can only imagine.
With Carmentis, Antony Webb takes this concept of a far-off world and embraces his free-running imagination, all the while presenting a deeply human story about loneliness and grief. The film kicks off with Mac already injured after an accident, and as he lays on his back, staring at an overwhelming challenge ahead of him, his smart-body suit works to alleviate the pain and stress of his injuries.
I went into this short not knowing what to expect, and found myself being moved by Mortley’s deeply humane performance. As Mac, Ben manages to display doubt, grief, anxiety, and depression all from within a body suit, and it’s this performance, alongside Antony Webb’s writing, that makes Carmentis a moving film.
Yet, Webb knows intimately how to operate within the sci-fi genre, utilising the fantastical elements of unknown and unseen worlds to reinforce the hope, vibrancy, and possibilities of life. What impacted me the most was seeing how Webb presents the light that can shine in our darkest moments, when all hope feels lost and when there seems to be no path forward, something magically appears and pushes us on. The visual representation of this theme is simply beautiful, providing the well-earned uplift that the story needs. It’s a testament to how excellent the exceptional visual effects are as they manage to immerse you into the story and Mac’s world so effortlessly.
The struggle that Mac faces to push himself through the pain and get to safety plays like a painful push-and-pull between him and his AI voiced suit. It’s impressive that Webb never presents this as an obvious metaphor for our mental demons, instead allowing the viewer to either read deeply into the themes or merely see it as a surface level narrative. I couldn’t help but walk away with this being the moment that lingered in my mind the most.
The way that Mac and Eve communicate resonated with how I have personally dealt with the voice of anxiety and depression in my own mind. These disembodied voices don’t care what you feel, they don’t care about who you are, they merely want you to focus on the negatives. For Mac, Eve repeatedly reminding him of how damaged his body is, how dire his circumstances are, is an unwanted voice in his head telling him he will fail. Yet, Mac pushes on, he strives past that voice, pushing it down and out of his mind, and overcoming the physical and mental difficulties he is immediately facing.
This emotional exploration helps ground the story wonderfully, reminding us that no matter how far we may venture into space, no matter how far we travel, we are still tied to the emotions that make us human beings. And with that humanity comes the faults of being a person. It’s easy to see how this kind of story could be transplanted to modern day, with a miner in the outback going through the same struggles, but that’s what works so well with Carmentis – the world may be different, the landscape may be alien, but inside us are the same struggles that we find on Earth.
Short films can often be used as a ‘proof of concept’ ideas, working as an outline of what the filmmakers would like to do over a feature length and with a greater budget. This style of filmmaking has managed to create some fascinating and exciting leaps from short films to features, and if Carmentis is to go by, the feature film that Antony Webb will make after this will cement him as one of the most exciting new voices in Australian film. I look at Jennifer Kent’s Monster as an apt comparison piece. In that short, Kent planted the seeds of exploring mental health through the visage of the horror genre, and with The Babadook she managed to flesh out that idea to impressive heights.
The way Antony Webb explores the themes of isolation and depression on a distant planet is a sign of a filmmaker who knows how to craft personal and relatable story within a genre framework. Whether Webb intends to turn this into a feature film or not is besides the point. On its own, Carmentis is a visually powerful, emotionally resonant story that utilises the framework of the science-fiction genre masterfully.
I look at the ever-changing landscape of how films are presented in Australia, with short form content delivering narratives that carry more weight and investment than many feature films, and I can’t help but see the future of Australian film thriving with short films like Carmentis or Alison James Judas Collar or Chris Elena’s Audio Guide. These short films and webseries are becoming more accessible and more prolific, with the foundations of a quiet revolution starting to occur within the Australian film industry, with narrative structures no longer being obliged to fill a ninety-minute feature. It’s an exciting time to see these new talents emerge, creating a diverse voice and future for the Australian film industry, and I for one am excited to see what Antony Webb creates next.
Director: Antony Webb
Cast: Ben Mortley, Adriane Daff, Jo Morris
Writer: Antony Webb