Directed by Martin Sommerdag | Reviewed by Sayantan Mukherjee
Martin Sommerdag’s “The Psychic Serum” puts us directly in the middle of action from the get-go. Shot in a found footage format on an iPhone, we find ourselves running through the woods with an unknown Vlogger. There’s no preamble and the exposition happens through our anxious protagonist who stumbles through the wilderness, recording himself on a phone, talking about an incredible serum and a video file he has recovered from the safe of his late father; an evolutionary microbiologist from the Cold War era.Our protagonist believes this experimental serum can gift a person “psychic powers” for a brief period; a belief he wants to verify on camera. But he’s frantic, almost on the verge of breakdown as he runs while constantly looking back over his shoulder. He feels that he’s not alone in these woods and there’s an unknown entity hiding itself, observing his every move.
Scripted, recorded, edited and acted entirely by Martin Sommerdag himself, this is an intensely personal project. Gone are the days when the art of film-making demanded a crew of personnel to succeed and the final vision would be a culmination of multiple touches through the production process. Instead, here we get an unfiltered version of Martin’s auteurship, in all its raw and visceral glory. In the contemporary era, Vlogging has taken the world by storm and YouTube garners millions of viewers from the Vloggers who record their daily adventures around the world. We are so used to the format by now, that Martin’s film feels like real life. The urgency in our protagonist’s mission is immediate and we as audience have no choice but to become his accomplice. The immersion is more successful due to this Vlogging format as the psychological effects on the individual is reflected on his camera movements. In times of despair, he cannot hold the camera steady as he runs, his panic washing over us in a chaos-stricken dash through the woods. We are there with him in the woods, running for life. There’s no background description of the event, no other perspective from which we can see the story and our only guide is the protagonist, who balances his limited time between saving himself and explaining the ramifications to the camera.
We do not know what lies around the corner and are discovering the threats alongside him, a feeling of uneasiness covering our senses constantly.The pulsating music aids in this uneasy feeling, as if making us ready to pounce at a moment’s notice; instilling a sense of survival instinct in us. There’s not a single moment of respite throughout the runtime, as it should be. In real life, you don’t get to pause and reflect on your decisions while escaping with a classified serum!
The Vlogger must test the serum before time runs out as he feels his unknown pursuers closing in on him. There are obvious risks of ingesting an unidentified fluid but he is willing to test it. He talks us through the idea of having psychic powers and mentions the supernatural qualities of teleportation and controlling things with our mind. Describing it as pseudoscience, he wants to test out these arcane possibilities even with a risk to his life. “Risk is a part of laboratory science” is what his father used to believe in and he has inherited a similar vein of fearlessness towards the unknown.
So, he sets down his camera for the first time and declares “no guts, no glory” as he gulps down the serum in one go. The first step to his mission is finally covered in a frenzy. He picks up his camera and starts to walk again, his body now reeling from the strangle fluid. The serum slowly starts taking effect on him and he confesses his displeasure. His throat starts burning up badly from the inside; a feeling he describes as akin to having grains of hot sand stuck there. This serves as the starting to a variety of fantastical changes in his body and our protagonist can finally verify the potency of the serum. Base reality as he has perceived thus far, starts to warp into uncharted territories and he undergoes these fantastical changes in front of the camera. The illusion of non-fiction storytelling in “The Psychic Serum” finally delves into magic realism at this point and serves as an excellent culmination of the built-up tension through the progression of events.
Although the eventful finale of VLOG.5 is quite satisfying in its short format storytelling, it ends in a cliffhanger exciting enough for us to watch the next entry in the series. This is truly a representation of how independently produced films can be creative enough to transcend genres and require little to no budget in realizing crazy ideas.