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Monday, April 19, 2021

Utopia launches into a speculative vision of their own land

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“You look at the cast list and you notice very quickly that you get the sense of the new people in the community,” Ms. Flynn says of this dystopian thriller about the set of a colony on Earth called Utopia, where newlyweds Nicole (Emily Browning) and Antonio (John Cho) feel isolated, dissatisfied and left in the dust — and where they can be married legally. “There’s lots of people whose lives are clearly in disarray.”

It doesn’t help matters that Utopia wants to make its sole home on the remote planet of Isorlo, for indefinite periods of time. Just look at Mr. Quinn, the soldier who in Act 1 stabs his archenemy to death: He’s returning to his home planet of Earth after centuries of confinement.

Ms. Flynn, too, was imprisoned in her childhood home in England, which she visited often and that has since been the site of her writing career. Both characters are experienced at the reclusion-and-carceral system. Nicole could see a green lung for the first time this day. “The world she grew up in was very, very different from the world of Utopia,” Ms. Flynn says. “And it feels as though in the two worlds she lives in now she’s somewhere in the middle.”

Utopia director Matthew Cullen also knows a few things about the high frontier of narrative geography: He spent several years in a small landscape like Wasilla, Alaska, directing TV shows and short movies and writing “enough to get some recognition from those who are curious,” he says.

“Utopia” has an experimental scale that lands between films like “Hunger Games” and of-the-moment departures like “Escape Plan.” “It seems to borrow in many ways from Game of Thrones,” says Ms. Flynn, although she was less worried about Game of Thrones comparisons. “And it’s super-interesting and unnerving that the whole tone of that is very independent, and yet you see no blood on the carpet — or the carpet seems very artificial. You feel that very strong, empathetic connection to the characters, yet you have this escalating sense of dread.”

Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of previews for the Tribeca Film Festival. See the Tribeca Daily previews page for the full lineup.

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