Monday, 17 June 2013

DTV: 'Stranded'

Hey, I’ll have you know there are plenty of good direct-to-video films.

... This is not one of them.

From Roger Christian, the director of Battlefield Earth, comes a brand new tale of interstellar horror and poorly lit corridors. A small team of Moon-based astronauts under the command of Col. Gerard Brauchman (ohmygodit’s Christian Slater!) suddenly find their lunar facility on the receiving end of a violent meteor shower that cripples the base and leaves them... Stranded.    

But they aren’t alone. Already threatened by gradual carbon monoxide poisoning (bear witness to THE RETURN OF SPACE DEMENTIA), they soon realise that something else came down with the meteors – a malevolent alien organism that takes physical form after impregnating one crew member and perfectly replicating another. As the creature sets its insidious plan in motion, Brauchman’s team must find a way to ensure not only their own survival, but the safety of Earth itself.

Yep. It’s gonna be one of those movies. Might as well get the disposable characters over with before anything else. First up is the young Dr. Krauss (Brendan Fehr). He’s all stoic and rational ‘n’ stuff. Then there’s Ava (Amy Matysio), who, in compliance with the Ripley Act of 1979, clearly has much larger testicles than any of her male co-workers... but she also displays incredible stupidity. Last, but surprisingly not least, Michael Therriault plays Johns, a twitchy alcoholic who suffers the misfortunate honour of having the otherworldly visitor form itself in his image. And honestly, in spite of Stranded’s terribad script (brace yourself for the depressurisation gag), Therriault’s double-act (two vastly different roles) is far and away the best thing in it.   

For many, Christian Slater will forever be that weirdo from Heathers. I’m more of a Broken Arrow fan, myself, but it’s always a nice surprise to see this humanoid 90s time capsule show up in the unlikeliest of places (loved his Bullet to the Head cameo). While I’m not entirely convinced he was 100% sober at the time of filming, Slater still puts in an earnest performance as Brauchman, even if all the role ultimately amounts to is frowning in confusion and yelling at computers (drinking game material). Of course, the REAL star here is Slater’s hairline, but that’s a whole other sci-fi horror for a very different review.

Believe it or not, but Roger Christian wasn’t always doomed to be remembered as the man who gave us John Travolta’s finest hour. Long before that incident, Christian was working in the art departments for such films as Star Wars and, more relevantly, Alien. Indeed, the Blu-ray cover is quick to point this out in such a manner that you’d think Dan O’Bannon had risen from the grave to pen one last screenplay.

Sadly, neither Alien nor Star Wars exactly spring to mind when watching Stranded. If anything, there’s more than a whiff of Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation hovering around the production. It’s got that same murky cinematography – all ruddy colours and overwhelming shadows – making the film look as though it was shot from one end of an unclean fish tank. Fair play if that was Christian’s intention (at least he’s toned down the Dutch angles), but save for one bizarre match dissolve incorporating a penny, I’m not sold on his creative vision just yet.

Worse still, it would appear as though this lack of aesthetic flair extended to the creature department... or lack thereof. While there is a killer alien, it spends most of the time in its Michael Therriault form. Towards the end, there are a few gruesome surprises (courtesy of some decent practical effects), but it’s a sad case of too little too late. You could say Stranded is geared more towards fans of Inseminoid than Titan Find.

None of this would matter too much if Stranded at least worked on a horror level, but that’s precisely where it disappoints the most. With the possible exception of when Ava wakes up to discover the Creepozoids baby breastfeeding off her, along with the very occasional unsettling moment (like a glimpse of said offspring watching from an air vent), this movie isn’t going to set pulses racing. Rest assured, there will be jump scares and there will be flickering lights. But there will be no surprises.

Oh well, you might be thinking, maybe it can make up for a lack of scares with some good old fashioned schlock? Nuh uh. The moment we’re told there will only be four primary characters, alarm bells start ringing. Already, you just know any gory demises are gonna be in short supply, and sure enough, there is a grand total of ONE novelty death to look forward to. I won’t spoil what happens (‘cos hey, it’s pretty funny), but it’s still not enough to warrant any self-respecting gorehound’s full attention. Things do start looking up when Ava’s uterus becomes unexpectedly occupied, but there’s no gruesome Xtro-styled birth sequence. Oh, there’s a birth sequence alright, but it happens mostly off-screen. And she lives. Why did I buy this movie again?  

If nothing else, Stranded is short. Without taking the end credits into account, its running time barely scrapes past 80 minutes. Irritatingly, this brevity turns out to be something of a double-edged sword. Yes, you don’t have to put up with Slater and co. for very long, but the ending turns out to be the film’s most interesting part – leaving us on a major cliffhanger. It’s almost as though Stranded was intended as the prequel to a far more entertaining movie! Chances are, that’s a sequel we’ll never get to see, and... I’m really not sure if I care.     

While Stranded was unceremoniously dumped in the UK video market a few weeks ago, it will apparently receive some form of theatrical North American release next month. I’m not sure I can technically recommend the film to anyone, but if, like me, you’ve ever wanted to spend an evening with Christian Slater on the Moon, now is your chance.

But you’ve been warned.        

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