Is it errant to fantasise of being something else? Are reveries of celebrity deluded, imaginings of omnipotence heresy? How about disappearing completely; to glide as a shadow through an increasingly claustrophobic society? And if any of this were possible, at what price? What cost would be acceptable to attain it?

The Escape is the directorial debut of award winning Visual Effects supervisor Paul J. Franklin, coming packaged as a shadowy 18 minute short based on Robert Sheckley’s The Store of the Worlds. Starring Julian Sands (The Killing Fields, Leaving Las Vegas) as Lambert, it depicts an ordinary family man visiting mysterious businessman Kellan, played by Art Malik (True Lies, The Living Daylights) who offers him the opportunity to be whatever or whoever he wishes, in exchange for a high, albeit unspecified, price. Lambert requests time to decide and returns to his wife Sarah (Olivia Williams) and children while confronting the decision between fantasy and reality.

Sheckley may not be as familiar a name as Philip K Dick or Kurt Vonnegut, nor has he been sucked into the novel cult vortex of Messrs Bradbury and Heller, yet his conceptions are very much in line. His tales of psychological voyeurism are set to backgrounds of dystopian tech-heavy consumerism via mediums of caustic satire and quasi-cynicism. That Franklin should choose Sheckley as his directorial business card is clearly a statement of intent. In an era where science fiction has never been bigger business for major studios, a man who has Inception, Interstellar and The Dark Knight on his Visual Effects CV must peer over his VFX monitor at Gareth Edwards’ central chair with his hands rubbing firmly together.

As one would construe from the cast, Franklin has by no means created a micro-budget short here. Three of the 18 minutes running time are rolling credits of crew, and the visual effects would not look out of place in a Doctor Strange opium come-down. The score was created by Andrew Kawczynski whose credits include Interstellar, Inferno and Inception for cripes sake. To compare The Escape with a typical short budgeted on a student’s weekend beer money therefore is unfair. However, to pack any amount of tension or instil eagerness into an audience over quarter of an hour is a heady task, fat budget or not. A typical trick is to create a single memorable scene, something that etches the past fifteen minutes into the hippocampus, and not cerebrally dumped alongside what type of eggs were eaten at breakfast. Franklin, however, attempts to tell a story, to build a set of characters and implant emotional resonance, while synchronously building tension to a big reveal.

The Escape is ambitious in scale and manages to flourish with eloquent ease. Moody visuals, great central characters and an enigmatic narrative all coalesce to create a wonderful thought-provoking story. With this excellent debut, it looks like Franklin may indeed get his heart’s desire after all.

Dir: Paul J. Franklin

Scr: Paul J. Franklin, Robert Sheckley (based on his book)

Cast: Julian Sands, Art Malik, Olivia Williams, Ben Miller

Prd: Jessica Malik, Jessica Parker, Lorena Wright

Music: Andrew Kawczynski

DOP: Michael Coulter

Country: UK

Year: 2017

Run Time: 18 Minutes

By Colin Lomas

I first watched The Company of Wolves at the age of 8. It gave me a lifelong love of the cinema and an utter terror of everything else.