Vibrant in both its neon-tinted visuals and characterization, Emily Carmichael’s short film Stryka is a winner due to some bone dry humor and a flagrant upending of the faithful sidekick trope. Aimee Mullins gleefully rolls her eyes (behind excellent alien make-up work) through an existential crisis as the title character, a petty thief who cares for her partner Callen (Rupert Friend) but who longs for the thrill of a larger, flashier score. The rom-com undertones are clear here as Stryka shares her frustrations with a futuristic therapist: stick with the unambitious guy who makes her happy or risk what she has for the bigger fish?
What’s immediately impressive about Stryka is the balance of its production design, which crafts a clever near-future reality and lays it over present-day New York City streets. A bus floats by without wheels, but we still have to wait for the flashing red crosswalk signal and hope the neighborhood diner makes our toast right. That blend gets to the humor of the film as well. This is a sci-fi future that feels familiar, so its fantastical elements are offered as winks embedded in a relatable world instead of empty spectacle solely meant to establish that we aren’t in Kansas anymore.
The story itself could take place anywhere, at any time, but Stryka—as a character—exists firmly in this kind of purple-skinned, flying car environment. Carmichael’s short film effectively puts Drax the Destroyer on the psychiatrist’s couch. Stryka is a strong, silent type finally allowed to speak. A secondary figure offered a spotlight. Plus, Rupert Friend is effortlessly charming as a Han Solo type who’s relegated to Chewie status, so that’s a bonus.
“I think a playful questioning of accepted story archetypes can have broad-reaching effect on how we encounter stories, ourselves and each other,” Carmichael said in her director’s statement on the film. “There’s an ideological war afoot between those who believe the voices of all people everywhere should be heard, and those who think that’s somehow ‘asking too much,’ or ‘going too far.’ And this is how we will win—by committing ourselves to exposing the untold story, wherever we find it, in our reality or an alternate one.”
Stryka also gives us a glimpse at a talent we’re about to see a lot more of. Carmichael was recently hired to write Pacific Rim: Maelstrom with Kira Snyder (Stryka apparently played a big role in her landing the gig), and she’s set to write and direct the action adventure Powerhouse with Steven Spielberg and Colin Trevorrow. Stryka clearly shows what Spielberg and so many others see in her: a filmmaker who’s talented, imaginative and humane.
You can check out more on Stryka, including concept art, here.
Featured Image: Emily Carmichael on Vimeo