Let’s mix a few clichés. How about a mash-up of a boy and his robot with the popular last man on Earth? That’s as far as the cheesiness goes in Will Magness’ The Manual, a thoughtful science fiction short that tells the story of the last man on Earth and his journey to understand his existence and the beyond.
A toddler, James, and his parents live in an isolated cabin in the forest. His parents are ill, and their guardian android, known as Machine (Lauren Emery) sits quietly in the corner. The father’s dying declaration to the Android is “Machine, keep him safe.” 30-years later, Machine has kept James (J.J. Johnson) safe as he wanders the planet looking for any sign of life. James is alone with only his android to provide some form of companionship.
“…the story of the last man on Earth and his journey to understand his existence and the beyond.”
Machine assists, protects and recites James’ horoscope daily. She also teaches from “The Manual.” Think of it as the Bible for man and machines providing comfort about present life and wisdom in preparation for the afterlife. In Genesis, the Manual speaks of a creator that created man in his own image and then how man then made machine in man’s image.
Visually, The Manual is an intriguing film. Writer/director Will Magness creates a believably deceptive world of desolation. While most of the film takes place in a forest, Magness creates a decaying nearby town, effectively aging his story hundreds of years into the future. The Manual is also shot beautifully; deliberately artistic and a joy to watch. He brings an elevated level of quality to his short independent film, that is to be admired.
“Machine assists, protects and recites James’ horoscope daily.”
Magness tells a fantastic existential story, which all good sci-fi stories should be. The story is less about survival in a dystopian future, but a story of humanity with a smack of religion; a study of loneliness, isolation, and the beyond.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the actual story. The Manual’s opening moments of the death of James’ parents are haunting pulling us directly into this bleak world. The ending is truly sci-fi and odd, but I ultimately got it. Granted, it took me a day to figure it out.
The Manual (2017) Written and directed by Will Magness. Starring J.J. Johnson and Lauren Emery.
3.5 out of 5 stars