While Aphotic Zone might not be everybody’s cup of tea, it will work wonders for many seeking an unorthodox voyage.
Aphotic Zone (2022) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on April 12, 2023
Rating 3.5 /5
Aphotic Zone is one of those films you can’t recommend to people not in the mindset to absorb its atmosphere. Here is a film that takes a deep dive into the sea (literally) and calls attention to climate change (less literal). It’s a presentation with ambient quality of becoming engrossed in an undersea world for a few minutes. In the same way that a film like Avatar: The Way of Water worked its magic on the viewers over three hours, this film manages to accomplish that same effect within minutes. One could almost think of it as an on-demand escapist fantasy, akin to those atmospheric YouTube videos so many throw on to calm down.
It’s near impossible to describe the sublime experience in mere words. The best one can hope for in conveying this film’s beauty is to imagine a quiet voyage below the sea. No voices are present to distract in the form of either characters or narration. There are no overt subtitles meant to stress the point of the picture. Instead, the viewer is treated to sights and sounds of the deep. There are wondrous sights and a looming sense of weight present in the depths of this watery world. Listen closely for the echoing sounds beyond and watch as odd creatures from the lowest depths swim gracefully across the screen.
The best comparison for this type of movie is Koyaanisqatsi, a film sometimes referred to as a visual poem. That picture featured footage centered around nature and cityscape, highlighting the conflict between mankind and the planet more through how the film was cut than any talking head could convey. While that film might be closer to explaining Aphotic Zone more as an avant-garde piece of cinema poetry, it might not be the best example given how the picture is never all-encompassing. The concept remains firmly in the realm of the dark and aquatic, keeping the audience entranced by its wonder and allure. The ambient sounds also set the perfect tone for feeling like you are one with the dreamlike state of our world.
The film may have more of a relation to Avatar: The Way of Water, considering how that film took its time to engross the audience in its world. Think of this far shorter film as a condensed version of that experience. However, as with most atmospheric movies, you must be in the right mindset to appreciate it. Close the curtains, turn off the lights, and crank the sound system to hear every detail coursing through this dream. This film becomes a trippy and sublime diversion when you're in the right mood.
While Aphotic Zone might not be everybody’s cup of tea, it will work wonders for many seeking an unorthodox voyage. Director Emilija Škarnulytė has done a masterful job crafting this intoxicating experience of a short film that is a treat for the eyes and ears. It was so relaxing to watch a short movie such as this which becomes more meditative than prescriptive, dazzling the viewer with quiet beauty.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.