One of the more trying aspects of sci-fi short films is the manner in which the necessary back story is given. The less successful sci-fi shorts have a massive mythos that they try to drop on the audience immediately, forcing the viewer to keep track of a myriad of tiny details that may or may not pay off. The more successful sci-fi shorts keep it simple, and key in on one small aspect of the larger story. It is in this way, simple and focused, that Chameleon succeeds.
Right off the bat, we’re given a few important details: the short takes place at a military base in West Virginia, and it has been 7 months since aliens invaded. A woman, Emily (Lucy Rayner), has been brought to the base because the army suspects that her husband, Herb (James C. Burns), is a changeling alien in disguise. It is now her duty to question her husband on intimate details of their life in an effort to find out if he is authentic or not.
From there, the film both goes exactly where you think it will, but also not quite. Again, it’s simple and focused; sure, we’re talking alien invasions and shape-shifters, but the heart of the film is a man and a woman going back and forth about their lives, with the spectre of death hanging over one wrong answer. That real emotion and drama is why the film works, and the execution of the story is what makes the entire experience that much better.
Chameleon is a great sci-fi short film, accomplishing far more than one would suspect, given some of the more common sci-fi elements. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? You can tell a familiar story, or introduce familiar elements, and, as long as you execute it well, that’s okay. Chameleon more than delivers on the story, and if this were just a teaser for a larger project from the same filmmaking team, I’d be excited to see what comes next.
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