The Bystanders critique – A British comedy about invisible guardian angels in a parallel universe.


Peter (played by Scott Haran) used to be a gifted chess player when he was a child, but now he doesn’t excel at anything in particular except for blending in with his surroundings. On his birthday, a coworker hands him a card to sign, not realizing it’s actually for Peter’s own birthday. None of his colleagues know who he is, and the card is filled with generic, polite messages. However, Peter discovers that his anonymity may actually be an advantage in one aspect of his life – he is recruited into the world of Bystanding, a parallel universe where invisible guardians guide and subtly influence their charges to make better decisions. Like Peter, these guardians are all unremarkable in their own ways and were chosen specifically for their role as bystanders.

This British sci-fi comedy has a scrappy feel that effectively balances its low budget. Its concept is part of a lineage of unconventional, metaphysical science fiction films such as Cold Souls, The Adjustment Bureau, and Another Earth. The movie also draws inspiration from British comedy, resembling shows like Red Dwarf and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by contrasting mundane daily struggles with a larger perspective of the universe. The film’s focus on ordinary, overlooked characters is refreshing in a time where loud and attention-seeking personalities dominate. It almost harks back to the relaxed mumblecore movement of the early 2000s.

Shot primarily in and around the east side of London, this humble movie may not have a large budget, but it strives to show that a captivating concept and a diverting film can be achieved without a lot of money. Science fiction is often associated with high costs, but this low-budget endeavor demonstrates that embracing endearingly inexpensive special effects can be just as compelling, if not more so, than pouring billions into creating a soulless barrage of computer-generated pixels for yet another formulaic superhero saga.


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