Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet
Written and directed by Glenn Payne
Dead Leaf Productions / MVD Visual
90 minutes, 2014 / 2016
To be honest, I don’t watch much mainstream television, but I did see the pilot of a program called “The 100” where a group of teens who grew up on a giant spaceship are sent down to an abandoned Earth as punishment, and have adventures, often horrific. Despite this, however, it was more soap opera than sci-fi, with terrible writing and not exactly outstanding acting.
This film is a minimalist version (i.e., micro-budget) of a similar story, but taking only the journey itself as its motif. At some previous point in history, Mars was colonized by the Earth, and everyone left the Earth (as far as we know; there is little in backstory). Now, three 30-year-olds are chosen to go back and join previous trios to help rescue the planet, with a load of cargo, some Mars stuff like ores, and a lot of questions to them, as Earth is a mystery as far as our travelers go.
Marshall (Greg Earnest) is a family man with an expectant wife at home on Mars, and definitely a macho man who does push-ups for stress, a need to deem himself as a “leader” and inflicted with some masculinist bullshit (haven’t they figured that out by whatever year this is supposed to be?). In today’s world, he would be a Republican.
Vivian (Casey Dillard) is a more feminist model, being strong and caring, but focused. Last is the more emotionally fragile Dawn (Meaghin Burke), who comes from the same district as Vivian; if I read the subtext correctly, she and Vivian are lovers. In addition, as Just neither here nor there informational FYI, in real life Burke is married to Earnest.
There are various timelines used and intertwined. The first is before the mission, in the form of the stated application videos; that’s probably not the correct term for their time, but as all futuristic sci-fi is really about the present, I’ll go with it; it looks like they’re sitting in front of a camera, answering questions. The another timeline is soon after takeoff, and another is further along the long journey from Mars to Earth, which will take a whole week. A week! To get from Mars to Earth! In actuality, if they could do this in a week, there’d probably be weekly shuttles. The distance is 249 million miles, which means they would have to average 1.5 million miles an hour. But I digress… Sometimes it’s a bit confusing to distinguish which is which time zone, so there are clever ways they keep the viewer in on it, be it a limp or a head Band-Aid. That was a good choice.
While this is more of a psychological study, there is still a sinister element, in that thanks to some of the cargo, three astronauts are having very vivid hallucinations, usually playing on their fears of the loneliness of their situation, ego, creatures, or fear of something going wrong with the ship in the middle of nowhere.
I understand the suspension of disbelief, and I’m okay with that, especially when confined to a micro-budget. That being said, there are a few things that made me go “hummm.” For example, those audition videos. If the population was limited and living under a dome, especially in a time in the future that was supposed to be that advanced, odds are the government would probably be much stricter, and there would probably not be any aspect of the applicants’ lives the government would not know about. The NSA now is keeping tabs on the multitudes through communications systems, and there are CCTV cameras in abundance. Imagine in a confined space where any disruptive action could cause a hole in the dome and instant death for everyone. There would be extreme monitoring, and lack of democratic ideals, most likely. The Mars-based government is not discussed at all, though the project coordinators seems devious and creepy.
For me, my interest was strong in the duality of technology. For example, one of the characters has an actual book and the other two tease her for not using digital (I find it hard to believe that books would be permitted on whatever spacecraft took the population that far, when digital books are no weight). Also, considering the advancement of the future, the only computers we see are what look like mini-iPads. Yes, characters say “close lights” rather than physically turning them off, but there doesn’t seem to be much technology around, other than a computerized voice giving information, usually as a background or in times of danger (“Warning Will Robinson! Warning!”).
There are a lot of questions I have, and actually I think not having them answered is the correct thing. For example, how large is the colony on Mars, a smaller planet than Earth; what kind of government is there; how many people have gone back to Earth before them and how many people are now on our planet (obviously more than a few). As for the condition of the Earth that they are reaching? Not gonna give a clue, but my imagination went wild while watching, which is good.
The acting is actually quite good for an indie film of this calibre, and I was bemused at the occasional slipping in of Southern accents – they all do it – as this was filmed in West Point and Tupelo, Mississippi.
While there are other flashes of characters, mostly through tapes of people who have supposedly gone before them (I worked for large corporations, and I am suspicious of all official company communicates, quite honestly), basically this is a three-person story (and some hallucinogenic ones), and it holds together well. It is not as much an action packed Star Wars-level kind of thing, but there is some well-paced moments, more along the timing of something like Alien (actually, I found the first Alien kind of slow moving, with the occasional excellent moments).
The extras are a decent commentary with director Payne and actor Dillard (who lets her accent ease in more) and the film’s trailer. Payne comments that there are more featurettes at the Facebook page.