“A commendable slice of cosmic panic.”
Space survival films are a genre all of their own. From Danny Boyle’s surreal Sunshine, to Daniel Espinosa’s polarizing Life, to the best of the bunch, Alfonso Cuarón’s immaculate Gravity, the film world seems fascinated with throwing interstellar obstacles at terrified protagonists in the deep reaches of space. Carl Strathie’s Solis pays varying levels of homage to not only these films, with its white-knuckle situations and harrowing depictions of the vastness of the cosmos, but also to their headier predecessors, particularly the monumental daring of 2001: A Space Odyssey, through its notable use of imagery and colour. Ultimately, the artistry of Solis, though understandably subtle enough for some to overlook, elevates the film from what could have been a somewhat staid space flick to a commendable slice of cosmic panic. Plus, a great deal of credit belongs to the captivating lead performance from cult-favorite Steven Ogg, finally given the chance to take the spotlight.
Ogg, most well-known for his gloriously twisted embodiment of Grand Theft Auto V psycho Trevor Philips, is the sole visible performer in Solis, playing Troy Holloway, an employee of interstellar mining company Orbis. The action begins after a devastating accident onboard the main mining craft, as Holloway awakes in an escape pod hurtling through space, on a crash course towards the sun. While it may seem a tad overdramatic that he is literally going to smash into the sun, Solis keeps its visuals polished and oddly elegant.
The film’s first 2001 reference, of many, arrives as the sun itself is introduced in a manner very reminiscent of the opening chords of Kubrick’s masterpiece. From there, Strathie incorporates a method borrowed from that other space-epic, Star Wars, as Holloway’s minuscule vessel shoots into frame like the Rebel ship, subsequently pursued by a behemoth – in this case a massive cloud of space debris also on a course for the eponymous star. Solis continues its choice aesthetics through its use of colour to augment Holloway’s various attempts to better his situation — blue and orange populate most of the frame during the calmer, more dialogue-heavy interactions, while red creeps in from time to time to signal danger and mortality, to great effect.
As he makes contact with Commander Roberts aboard the main vessel, played by another talented cult favorite, Alice Lowe, Holloway’s fate is considered and reconsidered many times over, as both he and Roberts seem unsure whether his is a lost cause just yet or not. The building sense of doom is well established, again not only in its high order performances but its visual craft. I must specifically mention two particularly unnerving uses of imagery that elevated the experience: the first, a crack in the pod’s window, which progressively grows bigger and bigger, coming to ominously resemble a spider’s web by the climax, effectively reasserting the futility of Holloway’s attempts to escape fate. The second, the more subtle, is the continued return to images of eyes and of spheres resembling eyes, which both recall blips of humanity in the inhumane void, and the stark absence of an over-watching presence in such a vast emptiness.
In fact, the aesthetics and plotting of Solis seem altogether consumed by the mercilessness of space, which, notably, means the film does not spend much time considering its intriguing potential for beauty, or mystery. This dourness becomes overbearing at times, as the film seems only to take the most decidedly tragic turns at every corner. The filmmakers do not take their foot off the pedal for long enough to truly empathize with much, and even though Lowe delivers some compelling monologues, and Ogg legitimately carries a great deal of the film with his strenuous energy, its character beats come off as somewhat rushed – as a fan of Ogg’s, I found myself wishing he was given perhaps a few more chances to spread out as a performer.
Overall, however, Solis is a great way to spend 90 minutes, especially for fans of the space-is-scary approach, and/or fans of Mr. Ogg or Ms. Lowe. What’s more, Strathie must be commended for not only delivering a tale worth telling, with a stellar lead performance, but also for making his yarn as aesthetically captivating as this.
Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller (Seen 25 June)
Go to Solis at EIFF