Updated: Jul 29, 2020
Directed by: #EkeChukwu
Written by: #EkeChukwu
Film Review by: Thomas Jay
Having suffered with Leukaemia all
her life, Zoe (Kirsten Foster) reaches a stage when her illness is classed as terminal, as her parents and friends come to terms with the news and set about giving her the best time possible, an Astronaut suddenly crash lands and shatters the ‘norm’. As starman Jacques (Max Scully) becomes acclimatised to his new, Earthly surroundings, it becomes very clear, very fast that this cinematic love letter, romance/sci-fi hybrid isn’t what it first appears to be.
Narrative goes under the microscope first, and while it is far from reinventing the wheel by any means, it does feel somewhat unique in a few senses. The film is a bit of a pseudo psychological thriller, with that though comes the biggest flaw - the ‘twist‘ or more fittingly reveal, was as subtle as a freight train, Jacques, as good as his performance was, still failed to mask his ulterior motives. Thankfully it wasn’t a major detriment to the film as a whole as the runtime is focused more on building character and ‘sowing the seeds’, so luckily it isn’t let down by dedicating too much time to that second stage of the plot. In that, I found it was an almost masterful handling of narrative, it knew what to relay and when to do so and wasted no time in any sense of the matter, it was really well paced. This is probably the best place to talk more about the ‘love letter‘ side of things, while it’s been difficult to find any press coverage on the title one can clearly see a few nods to some of cinema’s finest in Writer/Director Eke Chukwu’s Film. I’ll not go into too much detail as there’s some joy to be had by watching it unfold but there are some clear nods to classic films: The Terminator and The French Connection as well as an emulation of some Shakespearean works with some inspiration from Romeo and Juliet. Whether it be in a visual sense or structural, it does well to acknowledge its inspirations and mix in some own flair.
In terms of direction, Chukwu rose to the occasion on his debut feature, the film feels really ‘tight’ if you will - the quality is really exceptional. I mentioned slightly the high-quality nature of the narrative beforehand but it‘s also worth noting how the other elements converge to create a really standout film. The cinematography is charming, whilst there are only a handful of locations, it makes the title feel alive and grounded in the real world. Sticking with the camerawork, the choice to use tight close-ups, channelling conventions of classical delivery forms, specifically the play, it allows the character to deliver these grand monologues and arguments with close attention on the actors ultimate tool - the face. With the utmost respect to the world of independent film, especially in contemporary Britain, you can often feel that sense of ‘amateurishness’, it’s not something that’s always detrimental or even necessarily an issue but I can assure you the only difference between this and a mainstream outing is the runtime. Nothing about this suggests it’s an independent piece save from the length, it’s charming and really well made but feels as if it comes to a close a little too quickly.
Being a science fiction film there was bound to be a need for some visual effects and what effects do appear were of good standard. From physical make-up on the damaged space suit, or the CG rendered crafts that appear, there aren’t any visual flaws. It doesn’t go full ’Bay-hem’ or blockbuster mode and uses these effects when needed and required by the narrative. Essentially it passes the eye test and does so with its own personality on the style front.
Performance was stand out and really was the main factor to the films quality. Top billed and in many ways the lead character, Ian Reddington does a great job carrying the film with his acting chops that have been honed on numerous British dramas and countless other credits. His character, Zoe‘s father was really quite endearing and demonstrated a vast emotional range that was extremely nuanced in the same breath. That said though, Max Scully as Jacques really was a surprise package amongst his peers. The story hints numerous times toward his ‘supreme’ nature and his cold, almost stiff performance really seemed like Michael Fassbender’s ‘David‘ from the more recent Alien films (I promise that’s a compliment, he really is the unanimous standout from those films). Elsewhere the supporting cast contributed a lot to the works, though not quite on the levels of the two previously mentioned stars, the actors who are largely all friends of Zoe managed to leave an impression in what few scenes they got to shine in, offering an array of unique and distinct characterisations.
Surprisingly the genre blend is flawless. Science Fiction and Romance are two film genres that seem diametrically opposed, binary opposites but Chukwu does a fine job in melding them. In a credit to the film it practically creates a formula for how to be successful in this vein of film, flip back and forth between the two genres and allow each to have the required time to flourish and breath. In doing so Zoe and the Astronaut sets out its stall and really crafts a hitting, meaningful arc with detailed characters making it a joy to watch.
A stellar hybrid film, fronted by some notable stars and great visuals, Zoe and the Astronaut is really worth a watch.
Reviewed By: #TomJay