Arctic Void


On the road to the ends of the Earth.

(2022) Sci-Fi Thriller (Level 33) Michael Weaver, Tim Griffin, Justin Huen, Rune Temte, Laura Sophia Becker, Sarah Alles, Thomas Gallagher, Jim Johansen, Ingrid Liavaag. Directed by Darren Mann

 

When They created the phrase “The ends of the earth,” I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if They were thinking of the Arctic Circle, whoever They might be. Who put Them in charge of making phrases like “the ends of the earth,” anyway? I didn’t vote for Them, I know that…but we’re getting off-track. Let’s start again.

Basic cable travel program host Ray Marsh (Weaver, also one of three writers on the screenplay) and his fretful producer Alan Meursault (Griffin) are embarking on a tour boat into the Arctic. Mostly populated with scientific types as well as hardy adventurers, outgong captain Jim (Temte) doesn’t like Americans very much, although he is reasonably polite with the television personalities. They are working with a new cameraman, Sean Tibbetts (Huen), who is a last-minute replacement. He also happens to be a local guide and knows the ship and environs pretty well.

They are only four hours out of port when things start to get unsettling. No, I’m not talking about Ray flirting with a group of comely German students, although that’s horrific enough. I’m talking about an adult walrus impaling a baby walrus with its tusks, or a flock of seagulls suddenly breaking formation and attacking one another furiously. Oh, what I wouldn’t have paid to see the band of that name do that onstage…

Once again, we stray from the path. Let me begin again. The television crew wake up the next morning to find the boat utterly deserted. None of the dozen or so passengers and crew – other than themselves – is anywhere aboard. The lifeboats are all there, the luggage of the passengers is all there, they’re just – gone. To make matters worse, the ship has no power and is drifting aimlessly. The radio doesn’t appear to be working. However, there does seem to be a settlement nearby and the three men decide they have a better chance of survival there.

But the settlement, a Soviet carry-over (complete with brutalist architecture and stern statues of Lenin) is also deserted, although it appears to have food and warmth at the very least. However, Alan is gravely ill. Does this have anything to do with the mysterious disappearance of the passengers? And can the three of them survive long enough for help to come find them – if it ever does?

This indie isn’t exactly a micro-budget; it has some pretty nifty CGI animals (an eyeless seagull is particularly unsettling). The cinematography is also similarly first-rate, with the snowy and bleak landscapes becoming a character in the photoplay.

The performances are satisfactory, especially among the three leads who carry the bulk of the water here. The first two acts of the movie are given a brisk pace and the unsettling tone that begins early on gets more and more intense as the film goes on. Unfortunately, the third act is less satisfying, with much of the exposition going on and an ending that seems to suggest that either the writers ran out of ideas after essentially painting themselves into a corner, or the production accountant notified the director that their funds had run dry and production needed to shut down. Considering that the filming took place over only six days, I find the second explanation unlikely, especially considering what was accomplished in post-production.

Still, there is much to admire here, particularly from writer-director Mann who does a whole lot with just a little bit. The chilly environs might be off-putting at this time of year, particularly as Polar vortices seem to be a regular news story as I write this, but perhaps that makes it all the more appropriate. There aren’t a lot of moving parts here, but those that are move seamlessly, and the movie overall is a satisfying one, although the ending might leave you feeling like a diner in a restaurant whose waiter took away the plates before the diner finished eating…but yet again, I digress. Never mind.

REASONS TO SEE: Tense and bleak.
REASONS TO AVOID: The ending is abrupt and unsatisfying.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed entirely on location in Svalbard, Norway.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/1/22: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chernobyl Diaries
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Unforgivable

Toxico


An image that is no longer far-fetched.

(2020) Science Fiction (Level 33) Jazmin Stuart, Agustin Rittano, Victoria Cabada, Sebastián Carbone, Marcelo D’Andrea, Miriam Elizabeth de Luca, Betiana Frias, Martin Garabal, Lucila Garay, Francisco Gutiérrez, Alejandro Jovic, Carlos Lin, Lucila Mangone, Silvia Estela MIerez, Marcelo Mininno, Claudio Molfino, Gabriel Horacio Pallero, Santiago Podestá. Directed by Ariel Martinez Herrera

 

It may sound familiar at first glance. A massive pandemic; stores being denuded of their wares by a panicking populace; people in increasingly bizarre masks; rumors of conspiracies and suspicion of possible cures. It’s hard to believe that the screenplay for this film was written in 2016 and the movie sat on the shelf for a year before being released in 2020.

Laura (Stuart) and Augusto (Rittano) are a couple caught up in a pandemic. Rather than causing respiratory issues, this disease causes massive insomnia, leading to mass psychosis. The two decide to get in their motor home – which might be an ancestor of the TARDIS as it seems much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside – and get out of Dodge while they still can.

But their relationship is a stormy one and a revelation by Laura turns their trip on its ear. In the meantime, the streets begin to empty out and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell reality from insomnia-induced hallucination. Is this the end?

There is a good deal of symbolism (the movement of a turtle, symbolizing the slow flow of time in a quarantine) as well as a surreal sense of humor. This Argentine film is well-acted, with Stuart and Rittano giving their characters just enough authenticity to seem real. Both are fallable and don’t alwys act heroically and from time to time their bickering can lead to an awkward feeling as you might get when you go to a dinner party and the host couple gets into an argument. You get that feeling that you want to be anywhere but there, and that’s not always a good feeling when you’re watching a movie.

There is a lot of interesting surreal imagery – a guy in a hazmat suit shreds on electric guitar; another hospital tech weeps uncontrollably while a doctor searches for some paperwork and then throws himself out of a window – which make for interesting asides but don’t always contribute to the overall whole.

I’ll admit that we’re talking personal taste here, but overall the movie is a bit too out there for me, but I get that for some folks that’s more of a recommendation than a caution. For those of you who like their movies different and challenging, this might well be a hidden gem for you. For those whose tastes are a bit more mainstream – like myself – this might be a tougher sell.

REASONS TO SEE: A surreal piece that the pandemic-weary might relate to.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little too oddball for my tastes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is drug use and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Herrera’s debut feature film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Hoopla, Microsoft, Spectrum, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/9/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Contagion
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Escape from Mogadishu