A space survival film that almost but not quite survives its own ambition; which I can forgive, as it is the writer/director’s first feature.
There is a lot that’s great about Solis, and there is just as much which is disappointing. So it’s very difficult to generalize about its quality. I’ll ease up to that, then, and give you the information first.
Solis was written and directed by Carl Strathie and centers on an engineer with a mining company. The team he was working with has had to leave in a hurry from the asteroid where they were extracting minerals and other compounds; and even though they left in an Emergency Evacuation Vehicle, the departure was not a success. The EEV is damaged, off-course and all but one of the team die in the process. This one is Troy Holloway (Steven Ogg), and the film follows his attempts to stay safe and get home, with the assistance of Commander Roberts (Alice Lowe) on the company radio. Roberts pledges to lead a rescue party… but can she get there before his luck runs out?
Steven Ogg (can’t believe I didn’t recognize him as Simon from The Walking Dead!) is a perfectly serviceable Troy Holloway; Troy McClure, if he had a bit more action on screen. There is a good deal of panic, anxiety, and pain for him to show, and a little bit of thinking, but that’s about it. Alice Lowe’s smooth English voice is pretty much ideal for Roberts: her character is more than a little unprepared for managing a crisis, does her best with authority, and is a lot more comfortable when she takes an emotional approach to her support. But this is also one of the flaws of the film: there is a real sense of predictability when Roberts’ dialogue moves from safety protocols and crisis management into being Holloway’s counselor. It would be no surprise at all if they met with a hug at the end.
At first, watching Solis, I was expecting a rip-off of Gravity, but I must say the characters were strong enough that I forgot that pretty soon. However, there were many elements taken from or referencing other films, that I often felt I’d seen or heard it all before. The opening music was reminiscent of 2001, and later Holloway talked about how he might get out of the EEV in the same way Dave Bowman did. There was much that brought Boyle’s Sunshine to mind, though the godlike majesty of the sun was missing from this film.
The escape pod’s interior is nicely grubby and gritty (aided with the presence of a corpse in the seat next to Holloway). The floating debris and cracked window are pretty believable, as are the issues he has with temperature (he’s drifting towards the sun) and air supply. In fact, the physics throughout feels pretty strong… right until a scene near the end which does away with it altogether and is added purely for sentiment. The exterior of the pod often looks like a cheap model: I used to suspend disbelief all the time with Blake’s 7 models, no problem, but in this case, the sharp contrast with the fairly believable interior jarred.
In general, Bart Sienkiewicz’s cinematography was good, with each set being clear and sometimes shocking as appropriate. Claustrophobic moments were presented well (scenes like that in other films can sometimes be too dark or busy to see what’s going on) and the empty loneliness of Holloway’s situation is visible enough to be tangible. But the main element of the production which let the film down was the score. For one thing, there was way too much of it. The music was the overdramatic sort of orchestral that I thought the film industry might have grown out of twenty years ago (indeed the score was the only aspect of Alien which I thought dated it when I saw it at the cinema again recently). We don’t need music to tell us the main character is thinking about a new approach for fixing a problem, and we don’t need music to tell us – at least not that blatantly – when he’s about to run into more trouble. Even if the music was appropriate, it was not well mixed, with hardly any bass tones; in general, a bit too light and twinkly for a survival story.
The writing was good considering Solis mostly had one character and one set. But the pace was very choppy: he’s OK, new problem, is he still OK? Breathe again. He’s OK. Oh, look, a new problem. Although the problems Holloway faced may well have been authentic for that situation, the up-and-down nature of the mood was almost like a Hollywood slasher film (we’re safe! no, he’s got us). For me, I found it decent entertainment until the “bad physics” moment near the end (OK, I’ll tell you what it was: he got contact with his wife at home without any sound delay at all); and for my husband, the music ruined it. But this is Carl Strathie’s first film, and there’s a good chance – considering all the good bits amongst the bad – that the next one will be better.