Astral is an unnerving film that will tantalise your senses and leave you on edge, and while it might feel like a student film in parts, it ultimately still manages to keep audiences invested with its eerie soundtrack and ominous character design.
Written by Chris and Michael Mul and showcasing Chris’ directorial debut is the goosebumps-inducing Astral, 83 minutes of chills to satisfy your cravings for horror. Opening in select theatres, Astral explores the dark allure of astral projection and delves into the possible consequences of a successful episode.
After one moderately interesting lecture of pseudoscience, Alex, an unenthusiastic student suddenly finds himself with a keen curiosity for the art of astral projection. Following the discovery of the circumstances surrounding his mother’s death, Alex wishes to use astral projection in order to visit her in another dimension. After successfully attempting astral projection Alex soon becomes plagued by shadow people. Entities from a different realm are eager to use Alex as a pathway to the mortal dimension. It is not too long before Alex realises he was not the first person to be haunted by these malevolent beings.
Overall Astral was a very entertaining film. The steady pace and slow build lend to an unnerving and uncomfortable atmosphere. This being said, a great portion of the movie’s first half is used simply as a platform to unload exposition. Audiences may find the explanations and discussions of astral projection to be fascinating but one can’t help but feel that it wasn’t all completely necessary to the film’s progression. To further set the tone of unease the filmmakers make sure to sell astral projection as a real possibility. Including a “don’t try this at home warning” and dropping periodical history references, Astral works to bring a sense of authenticity to the table. Cleverly bringing a sense of realism helps audiences commit and immerse themselves into the narrative, creating a nerve-wracking and paranoia-inducing experience.
Alex is played by Frank Dillane, mostly known for his role in Fear the Walking Dead and briefly as young Tom Riddle. Dillane, although stagnant in parts, comes into his own when the narrative begins to pick up speed in the second half. Dillane exhibits great potential as his skills are put to the test when Astral reaches its climax. Astral also introduces new and rising talent to the screen; young and fresh-faced, this cast shows promise. Although a little stiff, with plenty of awkward moments and cringe dialogue, there is still hope for bigger things for these rising hopefuls.
Unfortunately, the characters in Astral are very one dimensional. Each playing a university stereotype, a nerd, a ****, a chill guy, a jerk and a loser, the cast play a group of friends that regrettably have no on-screen chemistry. In an attempt to create a diverse friendship circle, Astral actually gave audiences a muddled and unconvincing group of people that seldom have something in common. This graceless mash-up contributes unfortunately to an abundance of floundered exchanges and half-hearted comments that ensure audiences start wishing the shadow people would just show up already.
This being said Astral‘s unsettling atmosphere is glorious and can almost entirely be the responsibility of expert sound engineering. The score of Astral is truly unnerving and will keep audiences on their toes with gentle rhythm married with shocking interruptions and taunting tunes. The sound and score are orchestrated harmoniously for ultimate effect creating an air of tension that will keep audiences at the edge of their seats. Likewise, Astral’s costume department should also be praised as the antagonists manifest themselves in chilling costumes and disturbing faces. Each spirit is disturbing and spine-chilling in their design, personifying the stuff of nightmares.
Astral couldn’t exactly be described as terrifying but rather a movie created to make an audience feel unsettled. The mood and some of the scares reflect those seen in the short film Lights Out, in which you only realise something was in the room the moment it disappears rather than appears. The scares are unpredictable, and their sudden appearances make for a jittery watch as audiences watch on in anticipation. Although, the build-up in tension may not actually feel worthwhile in the end. The climax is no doubt entertaining but it does seem a little too short and sweet considering the length of time it took to get there.
Overall Astral is an unnerving film that will tantalise your senses and leave you on edge, shuffling in your seat. It feels like a student film in parts but ultimately still manages to keep audiences invested with its eerie soundtrack and ominous character design. Astral will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck as you check the corner of your room for shadow spirits. Considering the limited time and budget Astral had, it really is a deliciously freaky movie that will surely please horror movie enthusiasts.
Kelly has been a film critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018. Kelly gained a BSc in Film Production and Technology leading to her most notable credit for the production designer for a short film screened as part of the London Film Festival line up.