Having lived aboard a cramped spaceship with his mother for two years, Jacob’s dream of returning home is finally about to come true. But as they close in on Earth, they receive word of a great danger that could put the teenager in mortal peril.
Nils Keller’s ALMOST HOME is a coming-of-age short sci-fi film that follows the journey of a mother (Nico) and her ailing teenage son (Jakob) who are trying to get back to an Earth that’s in the grip of a serious viral pandemic. The film has won a Student Academy® Award and has been shortlisted for the 2023 Oscars®.
There’s something about space that just draws you in, quite inexplicably. A bit like The Apprentice. The thought of ordinary people in snug fitting elastane-rich suits living amongst the stars never fails to fill me with bug-eyed wonder. It’s the same with how similarly clad Apprentice contestants manage to make it into Lord Sugar’s board room every year (a set, incidentally, which I’m sure I once saw on Stargate). In a world where travelling anywhere can go to pot quicker than the Apollo 13 mission, mass space flight and Martian colonies still feel like a very, very long way off. One obvious upside of this is that Apprentice contestant Martian colonies safely remain the preserve of sci-fi horror fiction – for now, the closest we’ll get to Mars and back is buying some pills from the oft-quoted soap legend, Eastenders’ Nick Cotton, down the Queen Vic and hoping he’s right. Apologies for this pointless, possibly unintelligible digression, I do this sometimes – back to the show…
The scenes shot in the spaceship (people floating around, pressing buttons learnedly in spotless, rotating anti-gravity pods) present a compelling view of life onboard. Creating a setting that’s current enough for today’s audience to identify with but is far enough in the future is a classic sci-fi conundrum, usually dealt with by a subtle glimpse of a digital clock showing a date a realistic number of years into the future, as is done here, very competently if I might add.
The premise depicts a thought-provoking, uniquely modern quandary, namely, what happens when the dangers of the post-Covid world collide head-on with something as old as time itself: the unrivalled, indomitable power of a mother’s love.
Whilst the film is set amongst two physical worlds, it delves into three personal ones – those of a seventeen-year-old with a vulnerable immune system itching to start a normal life away from his endless off-world confinement; of a father who wants his boy to come home to be free at last and enjoy a proper life, and of a mother who knows this will mean certain death. Laid bare here are three noble but very different, at times irreconcilable, hopes (not unlike those of the Cotton family circa the late eighties – though I rather suspect any requests from the teenager along the lines of “get me some fags, ma” while they’re on their Earth sojourn would be blankly rebuffed – sorry, couldn’t resist).
The film deftly and poignantly captures the combustibility of passions between loved ones. When the tension between Nico and Jakob intensifies as they approach their destination, the threat of things spilling over into violence between the two feels very real.
Some of the exposition about Jakob’s condition through discussions between medics on Earth and Nico felt a little heavy handed, and whilst Jakob’s dilemma of whether to choose to stay with his mother or join his father was well drawn, we see nothing of the gut-wrenching despair that his predicament would surely spark. Still, you can’t fit everything into a thirty-minute runtime.
The film eloquently conveys man’s primality and the irresistible force of nature – the cut-away shots of people frolicking in the pines border on the trite, but they nevertheless do a great job in evoking the space travellers’ raw, undiluted longing to return to Mother Earth – the sight of a hand placed softly on a crinkled tree trunk brings into sharp relief the austere, synthetic walls of the spacecraft.
Almost Home is a fitting title that drips with dramatic irony. It’s a phrase that is normally heard when one is nearing the end of a long and arduous journey, and usually, come to think of it, said to a child. Except for Jakob, it’s a false promise.
The film forces us to question the nature of living; I’ll hazard that you wouldn’t call upon tips from the internet-littered Live Your Life, Don’t Survive self-help-type books in a truly life-threatening situation. Survive to Damn Well Live might instead be the preferred approach I’ll wager. Judging by their actions, our heroes seem to think so too.
Nils Keller studied film directing in Munich, Germany. He is currently working as a film, commercial and TV director. His short films have been screened at several renowned film festivals around the world, such as LA Shorts and Sapporo International Short Film Festival. ALMOST HOME has won gold at the Student Academy Awards. His commercials have been honoured at the New York International Advertising Awards and The Golden Award of Montreux among other festivals. As a TV director, he has just finished his first German TV series project. In 2022, he signed with Echo Lake Management as a director.
Jonas Lembeck founded the production company, Le Hof Media GmbH, together with Philip Hofmann and Robert Richarz in 2020. In 2021, a series for Prime Video was produced in the fiction sector as well as ALMOST HOME. In 2022, he signed with Echo Lake Management as a Producer.
The cinematography was created by Georg Nikolaus who is from Munich. After working in the industry for several years, he studied cinematography at the University of Television in Film Munich (HFF).
Review By John Molyneux