(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