Nostalgia. Independent cinema seems to be neck-deep in it, especially in it the sci-fi and horror genres. Most of the nostalgic styled indie films seem to take a tongue in cheek approach to the material. They tend to be self-aware and comical in many cases, whether it is the gonzo style of Kung Fury or the cheesy, gory sci-fi story with a heart like Turbo Kid. Writer and director Drew Bolduc decided to take a different approach with his latest film Assassinaut.
Set in the future, four teenage astronauts from war-torn earth find themselves on an alien planet, fighting to survive as they rush to save the Earth’s President from being assassinated. Do not let the basic summary fool you, there is more underneath the surface that makes this film stand out above many of the other indie sci-fi films out there.
First there is Bolduc’s approach to the material. Assassinaut has the soul of a serious 70s science fiction film. Part of this is due to the production design, and part is due to the performances of the cast. There is a minimalistic approach to this future earth. There are not a lot of flashy gadgets or wide well-lit hallways. Bolduc keeps things claustrophobic for most of the film. Much of the action taking place in smaller spaces or lit in such a way that you do not see all of the room. The best example of this is when the astronauts are teleported to a space station where the halls are more like that of a submarine. This kept things more intimate with the characters, putting the audience right there next to them. I loved this feeling and I think it helped create a stronger connection to the characters, especially to Sarah, the main character of the story.
Shannon Hutchinson plays Sarah, a teenage girl who wants to do what her father did – explore space and also make him proud. Her powerful performance helped ground the film as well as endear her to the audience. She shows strength and bravery while also showing she is also human. The other three young members of the cast also do well in their roles. Johnathan Newport’s Tom is going to be a character that many will find as annoying as his fellow astronauts do. His representation of being privileged in this futuristic society is a great juxtaposition to the rest of the group. Brooke, played by Yael Haskal, is the tech-savvy member of the group who was just grateful to be there and is a huge fan of the President. Then there is Charlie. Jasmina Parent gives a solid performance as the crew member Sarah connects with the most, yet you are not sure where Charlie stands in her dedication to the mission.
The script contains interesting commentary on politics while not forcing those themes down your throat. You have teenagers from different backgrounds debating the real purpose of their mission. The soldier who does not believe the children should be going into space. The President whose so enthusiastic about the mission that it is hard to tell if it is genuine or just for show. The idea of the children being used as political pawns could be applied to political events of today where certain groups or events are exploited for political gain.
The special effects background of Drew Bolduc is on full display in Assassinaut, whether it is a scene involving surgery, to external shots in space of the space station, to the bloody events that happen on the planet’s surface. All looked fantastic, namely because nearly all were practical effects. The scenes on the planet are shot with a bit of 70s surrealism and some extremely gory scenes, neither of which are excessive.
There are some seriously dark scenes in the film. The fact that these scenes involve the young astronauts adds another disturbing level to the already tension-filled events. It also has an ending that made me want to see more. Assassinaut is a gritty, perfectly paced, and methodically executed sci-fi thriller. It works within its budget and while it does have the spirit of nostalgia, it still feels fresh.
Look for Assassinaut on V.O.D. and Blu-ray July 30th.