Arrowhead (2017)Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/27/16 15:38:29
SCREENED AT THE 2016 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: Though all independent films have to deal with the realities of building something that can potentially make its investment back, it's a little more obvious for genre films, especially science fiction. Not only does every bit of visual world-building cost, but the safest eventual market (basic cable) restricts the filmmaker by having fairly specific content and length standards. It's hard to tell what boxed "Arrowhead" in the most, but it leads to a film with decent ideas that can never get behind one and run with it for more than a short stretch.It opens with a fair chunk of exposition about one general defeating another but being the sort of less-than-magnanimous victor that inspires resistance and imprisons a lot of guys in mining camps. One of them is Kye Cortland (Dan Mor), tech-savvy enough to make himself useful to the guards but loyal to the fugitive General Hatch (Mark Redpath). He escapes, naturally, but winds up stranded in an even more inhospitable planet with young biologist Tarren Hollis (Aleisha Rose). The ship's computer R33F (voice of Shaun Micallef) is sometimes helpful, but this place is as weird as it is dangerous.
That danger comes in a lot of different forms, and there are moments when the viewer will likely wish writer/director Jesse O'Brien had just picked one. As much as "what you might expect except for that one thing" often can keep a science fiction story from being much less creative than it should, not having that singular bit of mystery to focus on (our multiple mysteries that have some sort of connection), O'Brien never gets his story to build to anything or mean anything. The explanations that come at the end don't have much to do with half of what the characters have dealt with, and the challenges don't resonate with their inner conflicts. Nothing is ever pushing in the same direction.
A lot of things happening can at least create the appearance of motion even if things are ultimately going in a circle, but Arrowhead spends a surprising amount of time going nowhere. Characters drop in and out while Kye discovers strange and horrible things, but it never creates much urgency to actually make some sort of progress. There are stretches where both characters and audience are just waiting for something external to happen to shake things up a little, while R33F holds information back out of reasonable-enough data-security programming that makes the Nuggets it eventually does out come out of the script assigning human traits to a machine.
For as much as the pace and focus of the movie are all over the place, O'Brien has a chance to be a guy worth watching with a story and medium that gives him a little more room to work. He makes a nice-looking movie on what is likely a tight budget, aided in part by being in Australia, which had forbidding but beautiful landscapes aplenty, but he and his crew also do a fair job of going for the dirty-spaceship aesthetic, making the tech look distinctive and well-worn. There's some decent gross-out material when it's called for, and the small cast competes itself fairly well - Dan Mor is much better when he has someone to work with than when by himself, for instance, but Aleisha Rose makes a standard part enjoyable and Shaun Micallef does well at the sort of voice part that asks you to read something into it.There's enough decent sci-fi material here for fans of the genre to take notice and appreciate the execution, even if it does wind up being pieces of things they have seen many other times glued haphazardly together to fit a time slot. It at least feels like its being made by people with ambition and talent, which is more than van be said for many of its peers.
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