STRYKA takes place in a grungy “near-ish future” populated with hover cars, holograms and lizard-aliens. The eponymous heroine (Aimee Mullins) is a thief who does small-time jobs with her partner Callen (Rupert Friend) – but she questions whether their relationship is in her best interests.
Stryka is an alien – reminiscent of Whoverse Silurians, but spinier. She speaks in a rattling, subtitled language. Like many twenty-somethings, she also fields annoying phone calls from her mum, potters round her kitchen with a towel wrapped around her head and worries if she’ll ever actually amount to anything. The film’s heart – and much of its humour – stems from this juxtaposition of the alien and the mundane. Stryka’s dilemma will strike a chord with many people who are not spiny lizard women: should you stay with a partner who you fear is “holding you back?” The film explores this familiar situation with an unusual setting and protagonist.
Rain, brooding and intergalactic travel are avoided.
This is not unknown territory for writer-director Emily Carmichael, known for her award-winning shorts – including THE HUNTER AND THE SWAN DISCUSS THEIR MEETING, which explores a fairytale relationship through the lens of an ordinary dinner party. STRYKA is likewise interested in peeling back fantastic trappings to explore universal problems.
Despite referencing BLADE RUNNER and STAR WARS, much of the story takes place in daylight. A heist is planned in a diner. Rain, brooding and intergalactic travel are avoided. Instead the camera follows Stryka’s musings with a documentary-like style. During her therapy sessions she appears to address us directly, with the effect that we feel her dilemma.
Carmichael is aided by an excellent central cast, particularly Aimee Mullins. Mullins is covered in prosthetics, but this draws attention to her voice and eyes, which do the emotional work. Her eyes slide around whenever the character is embarrassed (i.e. often), to great comic effect. Her performance also adds a layer of poignancy to the film – we feel her quandary as she asks her therapist: “I have to explore all my options. Don’t I? Don’t I?” Mullins is supported by Rupert Friend, who conveys Callen’s obliviousness to his own lack of criminal class without, crucially, ever playing him as less than likeable. Their chemistry makes the denouement both bittersweet and satisfying.