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Somnio – film review

June 22, 2016


Pandorum scribe’s directorial offering keenly assured and supremely engaging.

somnio chris soren kelly

Written and directed by Travis Milloy. Produced by Laurie Sheldon and Tom Eberts. Starring: Christopher Soren Kelly, Cassandra Clark, Cajardo Lindsey and Jesse D. Arrow. Running time: 105 mins

Frank Lerner, a wrongly detained man held captive in an automated prison, is forced to relive the artificially induced memory of his arrest over and over again. While seeking solace in the embrace of a young woman existing only inside his fractured memory, Frank formulates a plan of escape.

As demonstrated with such enduring genre milestones as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, THX 1138 and Silent Running, serious-minded sci-fi has almost always been about exploring meaningful concepts and ideas over laser gun shoot-em ups and space battles. Of course there have been plenty of examples post Star Wars which can also be included in this pantheon; with many of these being independent features (Ex Machina, Moon, Predestination and Under The Skin springing to mind).

Emotionally engaging and structurally intriguing, Somnio is the latest directorial offering from the writer of cult sci-fi favorite Pandorum, Travis Milloy. Prior to penning Pandorum (released in 2009), Milloy had written and directed the little-seen crime drama Street Gun in 1996. He and his producing partner Laurie Sheldon had originally intended to shoot the script which evolved into Pandorum as a low-budget feature before the screenplay was picked up by Constantin Film and Impact Pictures and produced as a major motion picture starring Dennis Quaid.

christopher soren kelly somnio 2016

Milloy’s tightly-written screenplay for Somnio very much mirrors his work on Pandorum in terms of seeing the narrative unfold from the point of view of a character who awakens unaware of his predicament and has to figure things out for himself. And much like Duncan Jones’ Moon or Douglas Trumbull’s Silent RunningSomnio succeeds or fails based solely on the central performance of its leading man. Being on screen virtually the entire running time, Chris Soren Kelly (Ink, The Frame) displays he is more than capable of holding his own; delivering a finely nuanced performance which perfectly carries the film from beginning to end. With a talent as gifted as Soren Kelly at his disposal, it’s little wonder Milloy holds on his performance for extended stretches at a time before cutting away – making Somnio a terrific showcase for Soren Kelly’s abilities as an actor. Refreshingly, as voiced by actor Jesse D. Arrow, the prison A.I. (here dubbed Howard) is not the usual malevolent-sounding computer typically seen in films like these. Indeed, with Howard continually reassuring Frank that his sole purpose as a Life Support Operator (LSO) is to keep Frank alive, this A.I. very much comes across as a sympathetic – even endearing character in his own right.

somnio christopher soren kelly and cassandra clark

This is a film completely devoid of superfluous padding or filler; everything we         are being told or shown is there for a reason. The intricately woven narrative is conceptually rich and brimming with surprises – featuring several key moments     where the reality of certain scenes is revealed to be something else entirely – a     mind-bending technique seen previously in other films (most notably An American Werewolf in London and Brazil) – but done here in such a way as to make it appear surprisingly fresh and original. I’m also reminded of Duncan Jones’ Source Code with regard to the blossoming relationship between Frank and coffee shop owner Gabby (Cassandra Clark.) for, at its heart, Somnio is indeed a romance. Frank and Gabby interact within recurring replays of what appears to be Frank’s memory of the moment of his arrest. And much like the hero in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Frank seeks solace from the monotony of his incarceration by withdrawing more and more into his memories – real or imagined. These scenes between Frank and Gabby possess a refreshing sense of authenticity thanks in part to the chemistry between Soren Kelly and Clark (who is also very good by the way). And rising talent Cajardo Lindsey (soon to be seen in Independence Day: Resurgence) is also very good in a small but pivotal role.

While on the surface Somnio appears to be a cautionary tale of the potential for inhumane treatment of inmates within a fully automated prison industrial complex, Milloy’s film is also, at its core, a celebration of the tenacity of the human spirit. And while it undoubtedly explores serious themes, the film also possesses a lightness of tone which was not abundantly present in Pandorum – the humorous banter between Frank and Howard bringing a big smile to my face on more than a few occasions.

somnio prison cell

For an independent feature, the film’s technical aspects are all top notch; sporting crisp, natural and understated cinematography by Jason Nolte and Marty Mullin, superb and on-point editing by Milloy himself (uncredited), immersive sound design     by Mike Cramp and a terrifically emotive score by Jacob Yoffee.

Featuring assured and confident direction, a beautifully-crafted and compelling screenplay and a terrific showcase performance from the hugely talented Chris     Soren Kelly, Somnio is undoubtedly one of the most supremely satisfying movie experiences of the year.

The filmmakers are in the process of shopping Somnio around to prospective distributors, so for updates on future theatrical screenings, please visit the official website here:

And check out the Internet Movie Database entry here:

Viewed on-line as a Vimeo preview screener on Sunday June 12th 2016.

4.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.


From → film reviews

  1. This looks right up my street, I’ll keep an eye out for it, thanks Greg. I only hope I get the chance- there are a few indie films I’d like to see that have yet to reach a distribution channel I have access to over here. Its an irony of Netflix/Amazon Prime etc that exclusive channels like that can actually limit access if you don’t subscribe to them. I still haven’t seen Snowpiercer yet- it hasn’t been released here in the UK at all yet (although a freind claims to have seen it on Netflix). Why is everything so complicated these days?

    • gregory moss permalink

      Cheers Ian. Yeah, SOMNIO would definitely be in your wheelhouse I reckon. I can’t wait for more people to see it. Hopefully it will find a distributor here in Oz too. 🙂

      • gregory moss permalink

        And a big thank you to Laurie Sheldon for giving me the opportunity to see it. 🙂

  2. This sounds like my sort of thing! : ) Great review! I love all the other films you mention so I’m thinking I really need to see this one too. Funny you mention THX 1138 – I’ve finally just watched that for the first time. Wish I could say I’d been able to see the original version… What do you think of that film?

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks table9. 🙂

      Knowing you’re a big fan of serious sci-fi – I reckon you’ll really dig SOMNIO. Have you posted your THX 1138 review yet? I’d be keen to hear your thoughts. I love the original cut – but am not a huge fan of the specialized edition – those CGI shell dwellers at the end really annoy me and take me out of the movie. I still have an old pan-and-scan VHS copy of the original (I don’t think this version has ever been released on DVD or Blu-ray) – which I dig out and look at from time to time. I am hoping Lucas will make available a remastered version of the original – although, naturally, I’m not holding my breath. There’s a great making-of documentary on the double disk set, though – which is worth checking out.

      • Yeah, I posted a review last Tuesday but it was difficult as I kind of tried to imagine it as if I’d actually seen the original version. I looked at image comparisons online & know I SO would have preferred the original. The added bits were just so obvious! Why does he keep messing with his stuff?? It wouldn’t be so bad if the original version was made available as well. I might have the documentary – I’ll have to check my DVD. I did enjoy the film overall as it’s totally my type of thing. : )

      • gregory moss permalink

        That’s great! I’ll definitely check out your review! I’m right with you regarding Lucas continually tinkering with his stuff. I know there was a huge backlash against Spielberg when he messed with E.T. – forcing him to release a re-mastered version of the original cut to make amends. THX is such an historically important sci-fi film, I absolutely believe it should be afforded the same respect. 🙂

      • Yeah, we just watched E.T. with the kid for the first time (it’s so exciting that she’s getting to the age to start being introduced to the classics!!) and we suddenly thought “Crap – which version do we have?”. Not that she’d know the difference anyway. Lol. (It was the original. And she loved it). : )

  3. Okay – I don’t know if you’re still around but I’m just back from watching Arrival & came here specifically to see if you’ve seen it… ; )

    • gregory moss permalink

      Hey! Yep – still around. Just took a couple of months off to concentrate on my screenwriting. But I’m back now – and will be posting more regularly. I’ll be posting my review of ARRIVAL later on today. Look forward to chatting with you about it. 🙂

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