The invisible-to-people titular characters in director Gabriel Foster Prior’s U.K. science-fiction comedy The Bystanders aren’t exactly guardian angels, but they do have similar tasks in that they are assigned humans to watch over. If you get a positive-minded Bystander like rookie Peter Weir (Scott Haran), you could be in good shape, but if you’re stuck with a more jaded one such as Frank (Seann Walsh) — well, all bets are off. Peter, an anonymous office worker and a perennial second-place personality still stinging from a childhood chess championship loss, switches his charge Sarah (Georgia Mabel Clarke), a music label employee who is trying to get noticed at her job, with Frank’s ambitionless man-child Luke (Andi Jashy) in an effort to become Bystander of the Year. A budding friendship turns into rivalry, and Prior — who cowrote the screenplay with Jack Hughes — delivers a winning comedy of ill manners. Haran and Walsh have terrific comic chemistry together, and the members of the sizable supporting cast deliver fun, solid performances, too. Peopled with rich characters in amusing situations and boasting solid cinematography as well, The Bystanders comes strongly recommended.
Writer/director Keith John Adams’ Ozma is an intriguing work, a black-and-white U.K. science fiction feature that follows a single night in the life of both East London widower Jeff (Ferdy Roberts) — who holds imaginary soliloquies with his late wife Chloe (Alice Margaroli) — and the self-described “hyper-evolved, shape-shifting” jellyfish-like creature named Ozma (the voice of Eva Magyar) that he discovers outside his home. Through the course of this night, both Jeff and Ozma will encounter two argumentative, bicycle-riding police officers (Victoria Moseley and Jun Noh) and a rifle-toting eccentric (Gemma Saunders as Joanne), all of whom pose different kinds of threats. In turns whimsical, baffling, and poignant, Ozma is a decidedly offbeat exploration of a mourning man’s soul and a mystery involving London’s Cleopatra’s Needle. On-screen musicians provide a soundtrack filled with jazz and other styles of music. The stylized performances are well acted, and Adams’ labor of love — he also shot, edited, scored, and did production design and sound design — is technically sound throughout. Aficionados of thoughtful independent science fiction film fare with flair should find much to appreciate in Ozma.
The Bystanders and Ozma screened as part of Sci-Fi London Film Festival, which took place in London, U.K. from May 31–June 6, 2023.