ANOTHER EARTH Review: Vague But Thoughtful Low-budget Sci-fi

While too eager to adhere to the vague indiecore schematic, Another Earth is a visual stunner and provides a strong platform for both director Cahill and impressive lead actress Brit Marling.

rating: 3

Films from recent years such as District 9, Moon and most impressively, Monsters, have proven you don€™t need an overblown budget to make a visually accomplished, emotionally resonant science fiction film, but when it comes to impossible levels of economy, no recent film of the genre is as impressive on the surface as Mike Cahill€™s Another Earth. Made for a paltry $200,000, Cahill€™s film delivers immense visuals, two outstanding central performances, and despite the sometimes frustrating stoicism of its narrative, a wealth of food-for-thought. Rhoda (Brit Marling) begins the story youthful and optimistic, having been accepted to MIT with her entire life in front of her. One arrogant action €“ driving home drunk €“ however, changes her path, as she careens head on into John€™s (William Mapother) car, killing his wife and child, and essentially ruining his life. Four years later, upon being released from prison, she discovers a competition to win a trip to Earth 2 €“ a celestial body mimicking our own which is visible in the night sky €“ where she figures she might be able to start anew. Driven by guilt, she also tries to mend John€™s life €“ for as Rhoda was a minor at the time of her offence, he does not know her identity €“ becoming his friend before it leads to something more. In all of this, Rhoda tries to learn the best way to assuage her overwhelming regret. Looking at Another Earth, there€™s little indication it was made for such a low figure; Cahill€™s visual instinct indicates vast experience beyond himself, all the more impressive as he served as his own cinematographer. The gorgeous hues of blue and yellow create a slightly surreal €“ but grounded €“ atmosphere as Rhoda contemplates her future on this planet, while the earthier, soullessly plain tones of John€™s home help cement the soullessness of their post-accident lives. Savvy art-house fanatics will be able to tell very quickly in which direction €“ both artistically and dramatically €“ the film is going to go, and this might serve as a disappointment for more casual filmgoers pulled in by the compelling premise. Don€™t expect an otherwordly expedition of Speilbergian proportions, because you will inevitably be disappointed; keeping the film€™s budget in mind will be crucial to many appreciating the effort, for it is strictly a character-driven drama with some light sci-fi dressing. The trip to Earth 2 is itself never shown, and instead Cahill defers to ambiguity, but the indie art-house aesthetic is accomplished enough that this rarely feels like a budgetary confinement. Thematically, Cahill€™s film asks some taxing philosophical questions; what would we do if we could start again, and what would be the true spiritual purpose of such an exercise, when deeds, no matter where they occur and how far we can escape, cannot be undone in the literal sense. Too ironic is it that Rhoda€™s crash, while caused primarily by her drinking, was directly impacted by the presence of the second earth itself; Rhoda glances up into the night sky, transfixed by the beautiful body in the sky, and her alcohol-infused lack of concentration then causes her to forget that, yes, she is operating a motor vehicle. Just as splendid a find as Cahill, though, is lead actress Marling; while the firm indie tradition of long glances and endless silence is continued here without apology, it falls to her to populate these moments with meaning, and while at Cahill€™s amateur mercy several moments feel overly spacious and pointlessly distended, her attempt is nothing if not admirable. We feel the anguish of her character, and alongside a more seasoned performed €“ Mapother, who is also very good here, and purportedly worked on the film for only $100 per day €“ she finds grounded footing, which should secure her more prosperous work in the future. Much like Moon, it revels in subtlety and unanswered questions, right through to its beguiling and brilliant final shot. This proves alternately frustrating and satisfying throughout the film, but director Cahill does enough to prove that his second major feature €“ with a slightly bigger budget, one can hope - might make him a force to be reckoned with. While too eager to adhere to the vague indiecore schematic, Another Earth is a visual stunner and provides a strong platform for both director Cahill and impressive lead actress Brit Marling. Another Earth will be released in the UK on Dec 9th and was released on DVD in the U.S. from today.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.