The second film from Alex Galvin after his thriller début When Night Falls (2007), Eternity is a fascinating and constantly evolving story that follows a detective trying to solve a murder and reunite with his family in a virtual environment that tests his concept of reality and how the technological and real world can alter his perceptions.

Detective Richard Manning (Elliot Travers) has had career woes following a case that ended in a suspect committing suicide. Industrial entrepreneur Donovan is found murdered in a manner that is half plausible, half difficult to determine in terms of purpose. There’s a significant will involved so there are plenty of suspects and plenty of people to question regarding the murder, not least because it apparently occurred whilst many of the suspects were either present or had perceived alibis around the time the deceased met his downfall. Richard takes on this case, which is vital to him career wise – for failure could mean no career at all – and is both helped and hindered by the fact his investigation is instigated in a world that is all too real for him physically but is (as he is aware mentally) a computer based environment within his psyche; machinery fulfilling his perceptions as time becomes a flexible concept and reality an elaborate computer game. Characters that appear real could well be cyber instigations, a situation that could become more complex through viruses or hacking. Time could turn into days or years, as Richard is all too aware. All he wants is to get back to his family – but there is still a murder to be solved.

Ouroboros makes a number of appearances within Eternity emphasising the existence of Richard’s perception of time, the context of the story’s revelations and the cyclic nature of the narrative and the investigation. Depictions of the serpent eating its own tail appear as a motif throughout the film, most notably in virtually tattooed etchings on the corpses of the victims. This mixing of the old with the new, of the mythological with cyber-reality, makes for an engaging thriller that has the twist of a Philip K Dick noir, with a dash of Sherlock Holmes, but never falls into the realm of pretension. The virtual world Richard has found himself in is both recognisable and yet distanced from actuality. He wants to get back to his wife Lisa (Amy Tsang) and child but, unless he acts quickly, ‘game over’ is a definite possibility for him.

A modest budget does not constrain Galvin’s vision in creating an appealing science fiction film that links a mystery with a futuristic scenario that actually shies away from being deliberately fantastical. The authenticity of the virtual reality helps remove the film from being simply an effects laden piece of financed trailer-fodder. Eternity visualises its science-fiction scenario in an utterly consistent manner because, rather like its narrative, the mise-en-scene combines the old with the new. The machinery, from the monitors and computers through to the virtually transparent mobile phones/communications devices, are all integrated seamlessly. Similarly, the landscapes are contemporary and yet slightly otherworldly. In Richard’s world view elements of the real world and the constructed one manifest themselves in his brain, enhanced by the addition of aspects of this visionary world that are also shown in their CGI wireframed counterparts to link the two ‘realities’ to the viewer and, occasionally, to Richard.

With Eternity Alex Galvin has produced a well-constructed science fiction thriller that doesn’t revel in flash visuals but develops as a modern mystery within an unusual setting. It is thoroughly absorbing.

Eternity has been chosen for the Cinema des Antipodes selection of Cannes Cinephiles during this year’s festival.