On paper, God Particles should be a grating, insufferable slog to sit through. Each of its four episodes follows a different millennial in the days leading up to the Large Hadron Collider being turned on and the Higgs Boson—sometimes nicknamed the “God particle”—possibly being discovered, which may or may not end the world. It’s a shoestring-budget production, from a creative team with no prior credits, that feels inspired by a combination of Lars von Trier and P.T. Anderson. The sum of those factors should result in derivative, student film garbage.
So it’s a very pleasant surprise when the last episode wraps and the series resonates as something genuinely fulfilling, subtle, and unique. It’s also gorgeous.
The series’s main conceit—powering up the LHC for the first time—proves to be an excellent backdrop to measure the elusive concept of millennial angst. The event was the modern version of putting the Sputnik into orbit, albeit a bit tougher to understand; the implications of sending the first man-made device into Earth’s orbit were simple to grasp and get excited about, whereas the implications of high-speed particle collisions were not, which is probably why a rumor went around that the LHC might destroy the world, or the universe, or at least something integral to the existence of a tomorrow.
Everybody remembers somebody telling them that “the world might end” in the leadup to the LHC’s first test, and while there’s nothing new to the fear of new technology destroying all of existence—it’s a fear of the unknown that’s common to all humanity—the reactions to the LHC rumor contained something that felt unique to this generation: Even the people that thought the rumor was legitimate still wanted the damn thing turned on without delay.
The characters of God Particles react to the potential world’s end in one of two ways: either by shrugging it off entirely or by quietly yearning for it to happen. They’re all in their 20s or early 30s, and when they all come together in the final episode, it’s due to serendipitous connections through work, affairs, and AA meetings. For all but one of them, the world ending means either no more working, never having to face the consequences of an extramarital fling, or not having to abstain from alcohol anymore. After all, what’s a better excuse than the world ending for ditching the 12 steps and getting hammered on vodka?
The headlining characters are strongly defined, and, within their eight-ish minutes that they’re each allotted, they garner equal amounts of pity, sympathy, and disdain. Rue (Zoe Chao) is an alcoholic who’s unhappy with her menial job and thought she’d be somewhere better at this point in her life. Saul (Daniel Nemes) is a recovering heroin addict who’s low on money and on the verge of throwing away a healthy relationship for a shot at a former one. Allie (Carissa Cash) is a self-absorbed prescription cough syrup enthusiast who hasn’t had sex with her husband in six months. Jill (Claire Kaplan) is nine months pregnant and appears to be the character most determined to progress through life in a traditional sense, which is utterly grating to everybody around her. They’re all far richer than those descriptions, but going more in-depth would spoil discovering the better parts as the series unrolls.
It’s not uncommon for a creative team to put out a limited webseries and then walk away from the industry, and I very much hope that God Particles generates enough attention to encourage this one to keep going. Writer/director Leland Montgomery shows enormous promise in directing nuanced performances and staging conversations in engaging ways, and he weaves a compelling and atmospheric narrative where 99 percent of beginning filmmakers would create something pretentious and boring. Cinematographer/editor Spencer Devlin Howard makes the series ooze with production value despite very little money (the budget is estimated at $15,000 on IMDb). He maintains a bright, primary color palette throughout the 30-minute running time, and his floating but deliberate frame makes conversations feel organic and captivating. It’s a good use of both the strengths of shooting with light digital cameras and the classical fundamentals of film. He knows his toolbox well, and, when he wants to really hit you over the head with a stunning image, he does so brilliantly.
God Particles should make for an excellent business card for Montgomery and Howard as they move forward in the film industry, but here’s hoping that they get another shot at a personal project in the future. It would be fascinating to see them tackle a full 90-minute feature, and the breadth of this series shows that Montgomery could certainly pen one (with more money, he probably could have done so, compellingly, with this project). There’s nothing cooler than catching a talented team’s work early in their career, and sitting down with God Particles is good chance to try and do that. All four episodes are free, so the only investment required is a little bit of time, and they can all be viewed on the series’s website.
Screengrab via Leland Montgomery/Vimeo