The Bystanders review – British parallel-universe comedy of invisible guardian angels


Scott Haran, also known as Peter, was a gifted chess player in his childhood. However, in his adult life, he doesn’t excel at anything in particular and tends to blend into the background. On his birthday, he receives a card at work that he must sign, not realizing it’s for his own birthday. His colleagues are unfamiliar with him, and the card contains generic and polite messages. Peter soon discovers that his anonymity could be an advantage in a parallel universe called Bystanding. In this world, he is recruited as an invisible guardian whose role is to subtly steer and guide individuals towards better life choices. Like Peter, all the other guardians are unremarkable, which is why they were chosen for this duty.

This British sci-fi comedy has a scrappy energy that balances out its limited budget. The plot is reminiscent of other offbeat science fiction films like Cold Souls, The Adjustment Bureau, and Another Earth. It also draws inspiration from UK comedy such as Red Dwarf and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, using humor to contrast the mundane aspects of life with the vastness of the universe. The film’s focus on ordinary, overlooked individuals stands out in a time when attention is often given to louder, more outgoing personalities. It almost feels like a nod to the laid-back style of mumblecore films from the early 2000s.

This low-budget movie was primarily shot in and around east London. It may not have a big budget, but it aims to show that a creative and intriguing concept can be brought to life without a lot of money. Science fiction is typically associated with high expenses, but this film demonstrates that relying on simple special effects can be just as captivating, if not more so, than pouring billions of dollars into creating a generic superhero blockbuster filled with mindless CGI.