I've reviewed quite a few directorial debuts so far this year, yet none have promised quite as much as Claire Carrè's Embers. In a new spin on post-apocalyptia, Carrè's social sci-fi film chronicles the aftermath of a debilitating global neurological epidemic that leaves the remaining world's population wiped of their memory. Unable to remember who they are or where they came from at the start of each new day, Carrè's exciting narrative set-up comes ready-packed with so much potential. Fortunately, for the most part, Embers succeeds on living up to the promise of its ambitious plot.

Although it features plenty of recognisable genre iconography - everything from the run-down apartments to the barren wastelands of a quasi-future America makes an appearance at some point - Embers' ravished post-apocalyptic landscape is more innovative than it may initially seem. As characters meet each new day haggard and run-down, the decay of the dying world never seems to bother them. For this impaired population it's all they've ever known; this is the space they occupy now, and they aren't burdened with the memory of a time gone by. It's a subtle change-up in the formula, but it allows Embers to side-step many of the sub-genre's worst clichés, giving Carrè the ability to truly dive into how the film's characters function in this dystopian society.

It also helps that the cinematography on show in the director's debut is equally as inspired. A palpable and haunting sense of lost beauty in particular marks out Embers as a refreshing change of pace, whilst also allowing the movie to retain an unnerving sense of familiarity in the film's dying world. There are designs that would be instantly recognisable to even the most casual sci-fi fans out there, particularly a sterile, unaffected quarantine bunker draped in oppressive light that's liberally juxtaposed with the fading, but admittedly full of character, outside world. However, even when the movie sticks to the classic design templates of modern sci-fi, Carrè's striking eye for detail always makes every scene feel refreshing. As the camera slowly and methodically pans over the broken urban ruins of the outside or the calm and composed interior of the quarantine zone, there's a sense that, yeah, these scenes might seem familiar - but you've never seen them presented quite like this.

The story itself focuses purely on a select few characters and their daily novel encounters with other, potentially untrustworthy survivors. It's a really neat set-up, as the cast is always dynamically shifting and changing, with personalities subtly altering depending on the context as the days continue to reset. An unnamed man and woman repeatedly wake up together, one day living out a romantic 24 hours of personal discovery as they decide on their relationship, where they're going and even their own names. As Ben and Jenny, they wake up in a rather cosy (well, cosy for the end of society, anyway) apartment block with food and shelter. Cut forward a day and they're Max and Katie, two strangers lost in the middle of the wilderness. The fact that these characters live their lives through fleeting moments provides for a truly profound emotional hook, and the sheer uniqueness of the set-up allows for some genuine moments of unpredictability. It could have been frustrating to follow a set of personalities that can change from scene to scene, however Carrè keeps the small cast focused and cohesive enough to facilitate an engaging and logical story.

However while the narrative set-up does allow for some larger, more existential philosophical questions, Embers only ever briefly touches upon them. Although there are hints towards some rather dense interrogations of human behaviour - without the structure of a society and the benefits of modelled memories, would a person be revealed to be inherently good or evil, for instance - much of this goes unanswered in favour of more realistic character beats and developments. It's not necessarily a bad choice to give the movie a more straightforward focus per-se, but with a narrative this unusual it was slightly frustrating to see its deeper complexities and implications largely ignored.

With a striking eye for visual storytelling and an original and intriguing set up, Claire Carrè's Embers is one of the most immediately engaging science fiction films of the year. Although it never quite delves deep enough into its rather profound set up and it's hampered by a couple of problems when it comes to the overall quality of the production (likely due to its Kickstarter origins), the director's debut effort remains a thoughtful and considered film throughout. Boasting an array of largely skilled character-actors that bring Carrè's film well and truly to life, Embers is a reminder that the days of new and exciting sci-fi tales aren't entirely behind us yet.