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EIFF 2018: SOLIS Review

By Simon Read [07.02.18]

In many respects the premise to this lo-fi sci-fi film from writer/director Carl Strathie is pretty much bullet-proof. Following a meteor shower in outer space, astronaut and engineer Troy Holloway (Steven Ogg) finds himself trapped inside an escape pod hurtling towards the sun. His only contact is through radio communication with Commander Roberts (voiced by Alice Lowe). Roberts is piloting another ship which may be able to intercept the pod and rescue Holloway, but as life-support systems begin to fail it becomes a race against time for our desperate heroes.

If someone pitched me that idea in a production meeting I'd be interested, and if you've seen the trailer to this film it definitely looks like a white-knuckle thrill-ride, but Solis manages somehow to disappoint - and it's all in the writing.

The film starts promisingly as Holloway regains consciousness and takes his bearings, quickly realising that the only other survivor, strapped to the seat next to him, is now a corpse. When he makes contact with Roberts, they begin to work together to make a plan. From here the film rapidly becomes a series of episodes in which Holloway must fix or activate certain devices in order to prolong his survival until rescue arrives.

This is all fine, and par for the course in a movie like this, but the dialogue between the two characters is not particularly well-written, and this is where the film falls down.

Alice Lowe has a distinctive and at times commanding voice which is suited to her role here, and as Holloway, Ogg projects all the requisite anxiety and bewilderment one would expect from a man in his situation, but when they start discussing their personal histories during the film's quieter moments (failed marriages, stalled careers, various regrets) it feels forced and obligatory.

Solis is a B-movie dressed up as a blockbuster, and while it makes terrific use of special effects, sound design and lighting, its clunky script keeps it rooted firmly in that B-movie box. Essentially, the plot consists of Roberts telling Holloway what he needs to do, Holloway doing it (gurning and grunting all the while), before they both share a few poignant moments together. And repeat. And repeat.

I made a prediction early on that this pair would fall in love and meet at the end for a passionate kiss, or that Roberts would turn out to be a figment of the doomed Holloway's imagination. No spoilers here, but after a while the film invites speculation as to just how contrived and cliched things might become. As Holloway dodges asteroids while dangling on the outside of the ship, he quips, "I need a vacation!", and my palm met my face. When he takes out a battered photo of his daughter and gently paws at it through his spacesuit, I audibly groaned.

That the film directly lifts moments from other films feels fine. Sunshine, Moon, Buried, Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey - all are given explicit nods, and it actually works without being derivative. The impression is one of polite recognition from a film-maker who clearly enjoys the genre. It's a shame that for all its tension and suspense - and the film does hit its stride during several moments of peril - the writer scores repeated own goals with some very pedestrian dialogue.

Solis is worth your time if you're a sci-fi fan, and it may even become a sleeper hit, but it isn't a great film, it's a B-movie. It felt like it could have been more.

Recommended Release: MOON

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