REVIEW: “Ten with a Flag (2023)” goes full “Black Mirror” in a melancholic look at modern society

The 2023 short film follows a couple who learns that their unborn child will have a high intellectual capacity.

Courtesy of Vasco Alexandre
Courtesy of Vasco Alexandre

Filmmakers have tackled ideas on technology, government control and society for decades. From Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” to Netflix’s “Black Mirror,” there have been multiple depictions of the fall of society and the factors that contribute to it. “Ten with a Flag (2023)” is the latest feature in this sci-fi sub-genre, but it focuses more on the consequences of controlled government rather than the cause. 

“Ten with a Flag (2023)” is based on a short story of the same name, which was written by Joseph Paul Haines in a collection of short stories he released in 2010, “Ten with a Flag: and other playthings.” “Ten with a Flag (2023)” was showcased in Oscar Qualifying festivals around the world, and it won an award at the Leiria Film Fest

The 2023 short film is directed and edited by Vasco Alexandre. It follows a couple who learns that their unborn child will have a high intellectual capacity. In this world, the government predicts the intelligence level of every unborn child on a scale of 1-10. The main protagonists, Gemma and Jack, are told that their baby is rated a perfect 10. 

Still 5- Ten With a Flag.png
Courtesy of Vasco Alexandre

The film makes it extremely clear from the beginning that Gemma and Jack have different perspectives on the climate they live in. Gemma has an optimistic attitude toward her life and future while Jack is constantly frightened by the world around him. These emotions are conveyed expertly through the performances of the lead actors, Julie Martis and Bryan Moriarty respectively. Martis’s bubbly personality expresses positivity and warmth while Moriarty is more robotic and anxiety-ridden.

The locations and set design are not only beautiful to look at but also contribute to the themes and time period of the film. The modern architecture and moody lighting bring a futuristic quality to the film while other locations, including a restaurant, bring the film back to realism. The shots of the Scottish landscape bring beauty to a wealthy lifestyle while expressing the emptiness that can come with it. 

The densest aspect of “Ten with a Flag (2023)” is the screenplay. The film may be short in length, but its story leaves a lasting impression once it concludes. Through the eyes of Gemma and Jack, the audience experiences what it is like to be controlled by the government. Some think that following the government leads to success, such as Gemma. Jack, on the other hand, becomes an entirely different person due to the government’s control. Whether it's his lack of expression or weak conversational skills, the government reshaped his humanity. 

Still 3 - Ten With a Flag.png
Courtesy of Vasco Alexandre

The fate of Gemma and Jack’s characters is based entirely on their belief in the “system.” Gemma is trustworthy of the government, which is why she is treated to a nice living arrangement. Jack is untrustworthy of the government, so much so that he believes he has to leave his home to have a private conversation with his wife. His skepticism of the system is what leads him to be arrested and torn away from his family. Once Jack is gone, Gemma realizes that her husband is right and the government is corrupt. This is apparent as Gemma begins to act like Jack; fearful of her life and stoic in nature. 

Although the film is rewarding in its interpretation of a modern-esque world, it is left with diminishing returns in some ways. The premise and sets feel too familiar to the works of other feature films. There have been plenty of movies that discuss corruption and the dangers of technology, and this movie does very little to stand out above those, both visually and metaphorically. In moments, it feels that Alexandre limits himself as an artist to make the world feel real. Realism works when making movies, but this one needed something more unique to stand out in its presentation, despite being impactful thematically.

“Ten with a Flag (2023)” makes it clear that humanity is represented by numbers rather than the quality of people. Alexandre attempts to warn the audience how close his film is to becoming reality through its realistic approach to the sci-fi premise. Some may argue that the film is too derivative of others in its genre, but the motivation is executed well enough to warrant the runtime.

Trevor Stucker (he/him) is a sophomore majoring in Applied Film and Journalism. This is his second year writing for The Campus Citizen.

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