'Away' Review: A Video Game-Inspired Animated Film Made By One Lone Filmmaker [Sitges 2019]

Opening like a video game (an aesthetic that remains throughout the film's runtime), Away begins with a young boy – who shall remain our nameless protagonist throughout the film – who wakes up hanging from a parachute in the middle of a forest. We have no idea about his surroundings and neither does he. Before he can free himself and find his way out of this strange place, our hero must face a large behemoth of a monster that follows the kid wherever he goes. In one of the most impressive feature debuts in recent years, Away is the product of a sole individual. Latvian animator Gints Zilbalodis writes, directs, edits, produces, and even provides the music score for this film. Rather than traditional hand-drawn animation, Zilbalodis opts to create a lush, 3D CGI world that will delight fans of video games such as Shadow of the Colossus and Journey. Zilbalodis manages to create a rich world that feels much bigger than what is shown on screen, and indeed our main character finds a map marked with a clearly defined pathway towards his destination that feels very video game-inspired. Of course, the film's style will probably be compared to the work of Hayao Miyazaki, and with good reason. The legendary Japanese animator's aesthetic, especially in his classic My Neighbor Totoro is felt throughout Away. From the cute creatures, to the wide-eyed and innocent protagonist, to the primary colors that make up this fantasy world all feel like a Miyasaki movie – albeit, one that also feels like a game you've never played.Away doesn't have much in terms of plot. After acclimatizing to his surroundings, our nameless hero finds an oasis which the mysterious and sinister giant cannot enter. From there, he will go from one lever (or set piece) to the next, meeting new creatures that both resemble real animals, or completely new beings that accompany him on his journey, all the while looking over his shoulder to find the behemoth following him. But while the plot is minimalistic, Zilbalodis does an incredible job building the world of the movie in such a short amount of time, hinting at different locations, creatures and a deep lore that could easily spark new stories set in the same universe, all without using a single line of dialogue.Trying his hand at every aspect of the production of Away allows Zilbalodis to tell the story through more than just a script. Indeed, much of the narrative is influenced heavily by the music, which serves to lead our emotions and intrigue alongside those of the nameless hero. From a calm daylight walk through a forest, to a tense encounter with demons lurking in the shadows, we're fully invested in what Away has to show us. Away doesn't need a complex story or even dialogue. Zilbalodis has crafted an impressive feature debut that has plenty of heart to captivate its audience, and a large world filled with possibility and wonder that will leave the audience wanting to see more. After seeing this movie you'll instantly want to keep an eye out for whatever this promising animator does next./Film Rating: 8 out of 10