So Unreal: Amanda Kramer’s love letter to 1980s and 1990s techno-prophecies

Amanda Kramer’s latest is a frenetic, six-part nostalgia trip through twenty years of ‘cyberspace cinema’, navigated by the voice of Debbie Harry.

So Unreal (2023)
  • Reviewed from the 2024 International Film Festival Rotterdam 

Amanda Kramer’s passion for trash movies, neon lights and the music video aesthetics of the 1980s and 1990s are aggressively painted on screen in this cataclysmic collision of technology and humanity. Kramer continues the aesthetic journey from her last two films, Please Baby Please and Give Me Pity!, both of which landed in 2022 and featured fierce women with big dreams and big hair set against a backdrop of lurid pinks and cool blues. The director now turns her kitsch-attuned gaze to film history, speeding through reams of film clips in this earnest but doting documentary on fear and prophecy. 

Following homeground outings at Fantastic Fest in Texas and the Brooklyn Horror film festival, So Unreal received its European debut at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2024, where the filmmaker’s previous work – including all four features and a selection of her shorts – comprised a filmmaker focus in 2022. Collecting all the cool of her narrative film characters, Kramer has written a powerful voice of Goddess script for So Unreal, delivered in a perfect timbre somewhere between android and human by the inimitable Debbie Harry. A cyberpunk nostalgia trip told in six parts, Kramer’s historical cultural break down is a film analysis portal akin to Morpheus’s red pill.

Keanu fans will be pleased to know that The Matrix (1999) features heavily and, through the body horror of Videodrome (1983) and eXistenZ (1999), the twee stereotypes of Electric Dreams (1984) and big hitters like Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), Kramer examines collective fears around virtual reality and AI that have, to some extent, come true. Her fascination with what filmmakers imagined Y2K and its impending century would bring is both astute and exhausting, providing an impressive list of films for the uninitiated. 

Cult favourites from The Lawnmower Man (1992) to Virtuosity (1995) crop up – the latter of which editor Benjamin Shearn, who has worked with Kramer for over a decade, originally cut but which Kramer insisted upon because it stars Denzel Washington – while techno-purists will puzzle over why Blade Runner (1982) is missing.  

Kramer makes a point of deriding the glossy way that films like Hackers (1995) imagined the lives of techno-heads, contrasting them with news clips of the real-life hackers that inspire such stories. Deep fakes, conspiracy and surveillance serve as sub-plots. Hidden in the paranoia of the past is a clue: humanity must prevail. SAG-AFTRA and the Writers’s Guild were right to strike against the use of AI. The future remains unwritten.