Nov 10, 2023
Roland Almon, Siobhan Conners, Blakely David
NEW TO UK FILM REVIEW
Critics Chris Olson and Brian Penn host UK Film Club - a new film podcast covering all film types. From blockbusters to old favourites and even indie & shorts.
‘Stranded in space’ media has a long scale between the nightmarish horror of Alien and the carefree comedy of Red Dwarf. Personally, I can’t imagine anything more horrendous that being trapped, isolated, thousands of miles away from home inside a floating tin can and inflatable plastic spacesuit – so spare me George Clooney coolly quipping about breaking spacewalk records as he floats off to a lonely doom – Darkside is much more up my alley. Spencer Zimmerman’s short is brutal, dramatic and brilliantly captures grief in a space setting.
Roland Bowman (Roland Almon), a decorated astronaut, contemplates a mission of enormous importance, and immense risk. A missing crew bound for the moon of Titan has sent out an SOS, and a rescue mission is being organised to try and facilitate their safe return. Roland’s wife Sarah (Siobhan Conners) anguishes over his choice – and tries to make Roland consider her and their son Sam (Blakely David) in his decision. Roland’s determination to make a difference is overwhelming – but his role in the mission is more personal than it seems…
Darkside is an impressive, mature and stylish short that uses an engaging lead performance from Roland Almon to contemplate the cost of duty and drive against personal love and familial responsibility. The film’s central conflict is that of Roland Bowman’s decision to take up a risky rescue mission, knowing that doing so means leaving his family behind and placing his own life in great danger. Scenes between Roland and Sarah in their garden, discussing the news from beyond the stars with both knowing Roland will inevitably be called in to help the catastrophe are the film’s most affecting, and brilliantly nail the conflict both sides of the relationship are feeling.
The non-linear structure of the film allows Zimmerman to jump in and out of Bowman’s life, before his decision, during his preparation for spaceflight, and during the mission itself. The plot slowly unravels some fascinating revelations about the mission, and exactly who is in need of rescue. This approach allows the filmmakers to construct a fuller picture of Bowman, and what drives him to follow what would appear to be a futile path filled with danger. Where there was a risk that the film would dismiss the importance of family in favour of a classic heroic tale, Darkside impressively pivots to a more considered, multi-faceted story where love, fear, grief and guilt all can be explored by Roland’s duelling motivations.
Space travel and astronaut training is convincingly portrayed with distinguished practical and visual effects, even more impressive considering the shorter length of the film. An inherent threat and lack of inhabitability swallows Roland in the scenes set on Titan, where the film’s shudder-inducing narrative climax occurs. The spacecraft itself is a claustrophobic and anxiety-inducing industrial monolith, in which Roland’s inability to find comfort needs no elaboration. Even simple uses of lighting such as in the training sequences work to great effect as Zimmerman makes the decision to proceed with the mission a stressful and overloading experience.
Darkside punches well above its weight and keep viewers engaged on the edge of their seat throughout. A steady and consistently escalating story combined with fine acting and great visuals mean audiences will be shocked that so much is accomplished in such little time. Space has scarcely seemed so scary.