Sunday, June 26, 2016

Arrowhead (2016)

Some time in a space faring future. Two generals - both clearly not kissed by the democracy fairy - have been fighting over the part of the universe the film takes place in for some time. One Hatch (Mark Redpath) is the losing general, and has gone from your more standard space warfare to guerrilla operations, in particular attacks on prison planets where his former men are held.

On one such prison raid, prisoner Kye Cortland (Dan Mor), former elite soldier, son of a close associate of Hatch, and now suffering from PTSD as well as a big case of bitterness, more or less saves Hatch’s bacon, having to cut off his own foot in the process. That earns him a new cybernetic foot, and an offer from Hatch to do a little bit of data collection for him that should lead to a way to free Kye’s also imprisoned father before his planned execution in a couple of month’s time.

Not surprisingly, things don’t go quite as planned, so Kye soon finds himself stranded on a rather lethal desert moon together with enemy biologist Tarren Hollis (Aleisha Rose). Your usual environmental dangers – and the race against time in an attempt to get off the planet – aren’t the only problems for our heroes. There’s also some sort of creature around and it does rather more interesting things than just eat humans.

Jesse O’Brien’s Arrowhead is a great example of the fine art of making a clever and entertaining low budget science fiction movie in the classic style, which is to say with a robot made out of vacuum cleaner parts and rubbish bin bits (apparently because the production’s 3D printer broke) and an alien planet that looks quite a bit like a South Australian desert patch. If that sort of thing doesn’t sound potentially exciting to you, this is not going to be a film for you; to my eyes, this approach to just doing things the best one can usually promises enthusiasm, perhaps even intelligence. Turns out the film holds that promise, and provides even a bit more than I’d have dared ask for.

Sure, as it goes with this kind of production, Arrowhead has its moments of somewhat too vague scripting and not always terribly convincing special effects (specifically, the practical effect alien looks so screwy I think a crappy CGI effect would have actually worked out better for the film), but at its core, this is a clever little SF tale told with conviction and style whose plot actually goes into directions quite different from the sort of SF action film I expected it to be after the first fifteen minutes or so, and which features acting of a decency many an indie horror film of the same budget size would kill for. This is a proper science fiction film that takes on some proper science fictional ideas with dignity and conviction, and while it doesn’t add anything extremely new to these ideas, or becomes as psychedelic as some of its later ideas suggest it could become, it executes them very well indeed.

Apart from the alien – but honestly, if a viewer applies a bit of imagination there she should be able to cope - O’Brien makes fantastic use of his hand-made props, using their design to suggest parts of his universe’s background and giving the technology a lived-in and practical feeling, not as grimy as some films prefer but with a patina of reality that convinced me of the film’s universe as well as of the seriousness of the filmmaker. And while I don’t exactly buy an alien planet that looks quite this much like Australia, O’Brien uses the desert so well to provide moments of desolation as well as of beauty, complaining about this would be churlish, particularly since the desert does look rather alien to this German.

Even though I’ve mentioned the film’s budget a lot, the thing that impresses me most about Arrowhead is how quickly I found myself reaching the point watching it where this sort of thing just didn’t come to my mind anymore at all, for the film doesn’t feel like something filmed to get around problems and trouble spots but like a story told in exactly the way it was meant to be told.

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