Infini (2015)

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The recent trend towards indie sci-fi is a welcome one here at the ISCFC – we’ve directed viewers towards “Robot Revolution”, “Europa Report”, “Stranded” and “Last Days On Mars”, among others. Of course, some movies are more indie than others, and “Infini” looks like it’s had a pretty decent amount of money spent on it, thanks to new sci-fi production company Storm Vision Entertainment. Or I’m getting worse at telling when special effects are good or not – either option is possible.

 

Director Shane Abbess spent years on the lower rungs of the Australian movie industry before getting the chance to write and direct, and this is his first movie in both roles (he also produces too, so maybe he won the lottery? Anyway). We’re presented with the world of the 23rd century, where “slipstreaming” has become a thing. This is a way of transporting people and items instantaneously across the known universe, thanks to a metal doohickey implanted on the back of the neck.

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Time dilation is a thing, so when mercenaries are sent to the remotest of all discovered planets, a small mining colony they’ve lost contact with, an hour on Earth is equal to a week there. It’s due to its closeness to black holes or something – I don’t think the science checks out, but it’s a cool idea and ratchets the tension up. Anyway, the first team of mercenaries come back after a few seconds either soaked in blood, dead, or with a weird infection of some sort, and this causes the entire West Coast base to be shut sown with “lethal quarantine”. The only guy who gets out is new recruit Whit Carmichael (Daniel MacPherson, formerly of “Neighbours”), who does an emergency slipstream to Infini. He’s got a pregnant wife back in the slum, which leaves you wondering if this will be a reunite-the-family movie or a send-the-wife-back-a-final-message movie.

 

Two Earth hours later, the East Coast guys send a retrieval squad to Infini (including the other Hemsworth brother, Luke) and that’s when the movie kicks off. It becomes a sort of mashup of “The Thing” and “Solaris”, with a smidgeon of “Alien” in there too. The last miner went mad, for some as-yet-unknown reason, and was about to send a bomb back to Earth, so the mission is to defuse that and find out just what’s going on.

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This is an interesting movie with a lot of strong ideas in it; the acting is pretty good; the special effects and sets all look like they had a lot of money spent on them; and the sort-of-twist is extremely well handled, I think. There’s not even an “evil government agenda” subplot, which is surprising indeed. Now, that’s the good stuff out of the way…It feels to me a little like a cake which was left in the oven five minutes too long – still pretty nice, but tough to get down. And let’s see if I can tell you why without ruining it!

 

One scene relies on a wall blocking radio communication between the marines and a miner. Now, bear in mind this is a society where information can be beamed literally anywhere in the universe instantaneously and a wall messes their plans up? The opening credits discuss how 97% of the world’s population live below the poverty line, but rather than burning the rich peoples’ homes down, they just take on more dangerous jobs in deep space. Boring! Plus, that same info-scroll tells us that slipstreaming carries the risk of “data corruption”, but this potentially interesting idea is, unless I’m really missing something, never used at any point.

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While it wears its “influences” a little too proudly on its sleeve, the ending is excellent and quite clever, and even though I think Abbess is a stronger director than writer (some of the dialogue is terribly clunky, plus a horrible use of a team briefing as exposition) I’m looking forward to seeing what he does in the future.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Shadowzone (1990)

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When you have a problem with the fundamental premise of a movie, it needs to be really good to get over that hump and be enjoyable. Sadly, “Shadowzone” is not that movie. I mean, it’s got James Hong (aka David Lo Pan off of “Big Trouble In Little China”) and a woman who’s the spitting image of the curly haired one from “One Tree Hill” in it, so that’s nice, but it’s…well, let’s see what you think.

 

A NASA agent has been sent to a research laboratory to investigate the death of one of the scientists there – standard procedure, apparently. Upon arriving at this lab, he discovers it almost empty, as seismic activity caused a cave-in / partial evacuation. Why the agent wasn’t aware of this millions of dollars worth of damage is a question sadly left unanswered. Come on, Mark! This is only the first hurdle, you’ve got to power through this review! Anyway, this – again – high end NASA research base has got a hillbilly repair man, an even hillbilly-er lunch-lady, and three scientists. Because it bears printing more than once – there is less than no chance of NASA having a centre that looks anything like this.

What? Oh, this corpse? Are we still talking about that?

What? Oh, this corpse? Are we still talking about that?

To say their attitude towards the rather gruesome looking death of their colleague is casual is to understate it somewhat. His mutilated body is just lying there, and they let their pet monkey stand on the end of the table while they’re inspecting him. Lo Pan couldn’t give a toss! Based on what happens in the rest of the movie, these attitudes make absolutely no sense.

 

CAROLINE AWARD! Our trophy for movies with full-frontal male nudity is back (if any readers want to design a little graphic of an award, I’d be…well, surprised I have that many readers) Now, this movie does have boobs in it, but nothing below the female waist, so it counts. We see this clothes-absent gent in a tube, as the experiments the scientists are conducting involve severing one part of the brain from the others, and putting the test subject in a super-deep sleep. This opens up a portal to another dimension, obviously, and on setting 31F some mysterious and extraordinarily violent creature who the scientists have named “John Doe” came back through.

X marks the "spot"

X marks the “spot”

John Doe is a creature who can see your fears, or your dreams, or something, and uses this to change its appearance. So what we have is a very very poor man’s version of “The Thing”, as the base’s electronics are shot, meaning no-one can get out or communicate with the outside world (it’s all underground). Everyone is kind enough to split up at the first possible opportunity, to make it easier for Doe to pick them off, and the two hillbillies are kind enough to provide comic relief. When the characters’ biggest fears were being realised, I said to no-one “wow, that monster is clever – my biggest fear is a dull, slow movie”.

 

I think I’ve given you enough of a flavour of what this is all about, so now it’s time to answer why I didn’t even agree with the premise, along with the many issues of execution. Why would NASA have a research station in what looks like a very badly maintained Cold War bunker? There’s no reason at all for them to be underground, for one. Why would it be so poorly staffed? Why does a base with four people need a cook? Why does no-one care about the death of their co-worker? What’s the end-game of the people who are covering up the presence in our dimension of some evil dream-monster? Why did John Doe come to our dimension in the first place?

Jazz hands!

Jazz hands!

And so on, and so on. It’s not a terribly made film – writer/director JS Cardone is perfectly serviceable at the directing part of the job – but it just feels like it was made without any thought for how they were going to end it. And much like just about every single other movie from Full Moon (yes, this has Charles Band as producer), it could lose the middle half-hour and no-one would miss a thing. While the special effects are fun, with real grotesque models, the music is not, supplied by Charles’ brother Richard – you know, the guy who makes the same soundtrack over and over again. Perhaps that’s literally the case, as it’s so dull to listen to that my brain tries to forget it immediately.

 

I feel bad – reading other reviews of this in case there was something I missed (okay, to rip people off) I found a series of people who enjoyed its low-rent trashy fun, who liked the acting and thought it was okay to see a worse version of “The Thing”. Perhaps I suffer from some very specific form of anhedonia, related to the movies of Charles Band? “Shadowzone” was just no good though, and I come back to “what was the endgame of the scientists?” It feels like they shot the first half of the movie then had some catastrophe and had to completely alter the second half. Or that this movie company’s successes are accidental and garbage like this is their baseline

 

Rating: thumbs down

The Thing (2011)

I wonder if at any point during the making of this film anyone went “why are we doing this? Like, isn’t this just a complete waste of everyone’s time?” But, I bet people are just happy to be working making a film, and those questions will only come out when the finished product is revealed. But, we’ve not got to that yet!

“Something’s different about Dave. Maybe it’s his hair, or the new limb growing out of his chest. It’s hard to tell.”

The 1982 version of the film is one of my favourite horror films ever – I still fondly remember my friend Dave, when he worked at the local cinema, getting them to show it one Halloween. I’ll try and avoid making too many comparisons between the two films, although towards the end I think it’s going to become inevitable.

 

A guy who looks weirdly familiar to me interrupts the science-y work of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and asks her to come to the South Pole. Turns out some mining fellas have found a buried spaceship which has been there for 100,000 years or so, and they need her paleontological skills to identify…an alien! One of the blighters managed to escape from the stricken UFO but has been frozen in place for god knows how long. Well, 100000 years, minus a day or two, I suppose.

 

So far, so good. Who is that boss scientist fella? Never mind. They bring the alien back to their base and have a debate – Winstead says they should leave it and take it back to civilization to study it, boss scientist says they should take a tissue sample right now. Drilling into it evidently wakes it up, slowly, as a few hours later, while the “we found an alien” party is in full swing, it smashes out of the block of ice, and the main part of the film is ON!!!!

 

Part of the genius of the 1982 film was the sense of dread, along with the groundbreaking-for-the-time special effects. The alien could transform itself into anyone, so there was always that tension when someone left the room, or the group got split up. Hey, I tried not to compare things too much, but I couldn’t help myself. This film has the same alien, obviously, but he seems to be a lot less clever. I’ll give you an example. Later on in the film, there’s a helicopter which is taking a sick guy back to McMurdo, and one of the people on the helicopter is alien-ed up. Rather than just not alerting people to the fact he wants to eat their entire race, he transforms into his alien self and attacks them, destroying the final method of transportation out of the remote ice-station. Seems a bit stupid to me.

 

The film then gradually works its way through its multi-racial cast. We’ve got a British guy, a bunch of Norwegians, some Americans, and…the boss scientist! It’s Ulrich Thomsen, from “Festen”! The original Dogme 95 film and one of the most entertaining arthouse films of all time. That’s an interesting career arc for an actor, and the problem that was irritating my mind for an hour or so was solved.

 

The ending is really silly. One of the alien-infected runs off to the spaceship, to go back to his home planet. Luckily, after 100,000 years buried in the ice, it starts up first time. My mind rebelled at the daftness of this, so I started wondering what the alien’s friends would say when he turned back up at home. “Hey, Vexnarg, remember that 7 space-bucks you owe me?” The poor chap’s wife would give him a hard time, and his boss would probably sack him for crashing the car. The humans manage to prevent the ship from taking off, but one of the survivors is…you’ve guessed it, infected himself! So, the alien changes his mind for some reason (if he infects two people with “alien”, are they both the same person? Dunno) and that brings us to the final confrontation.

 

It’s difficult to spoil the ending of this film, as the last scene of this film is the first one of the 1982 version (give or take). But even though the makers of the film did their homework, and there’s plenty of careful continuity between the two films, it all seems a bit…silly. It’s another film which relies on people acting stupidly to drive the plot along; and I’m not just saying that as a viewer. If I was in that situation and I was surrounded by people behaving like they did, I’d be all “what? Really?”

 

The sensitive drama about conjoined twins had changed a lot since the first script draft

So, it’s part-prequel, part remake of one of the most fondly remembered horror films of all time. Is it any good? I think the main thing to say, really, is that it all seems a little pointless. The special effects are pretty fantastic, with the monsters reminding me of “Society”, the upper-classes-are-mutants film from the late 80s. But, absolutely no-one will ever say “well, the 1982 version was good, but 2011’s really knocks it into a cocked hat”. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is lovely, everyone tries their hardest, but the sense which is impossible to shift is that everyone’s time would have been better spent doing something else.

 

Rating: 2 ice-mutants out of 5

 

The Thing on IMDB
Buy The Thing (2011) [DVD]