SHOCKWAVE DARKSIDE (2014)
Written and Directed by Jay Weisman
I’m open to any kind of budget when it comes to science fiction. There are always gems to be found which have little to no money for building props and sets, after all the ideas are what matter. You can always disguise the limitations of a production behind some model kits and a few choice locations. This is a film which on the surface has those kinds of elements, with a band of soldiers having to make their way across the lunar surface during a war for the moon’s resources. After their ship goes down they are stranded with a dwindling supply of oxygen and energy for their armoured suits. Under constant threat of attack from an enemy force using machines which can spot them from high above, they must try to survive the hostile situation while also getting over their own idealogical differences. It’s a thought provoking and tense sounding set-up.
Unfortunately this synopsis gives the film far too much credit. It all fails in the execution, particularly the script which doesn’t really deliver on any of this, wasting all these fairly interesting elements. It also results in a story full of cartoon characters who spout future slang and jargon instead of creating a sympathetic ensemble. Like so many others they try to create that Starship Troopers or Aliens tone filled with banter and silly dialogue, but there’s no personality here and it comes off as clunky and unnecessarily complicated. People don’t talk like human beings, reeling off sound bites with questionable effectiveness for the most part. The cast don’t have the charisma or the acting chops, and the writing is poor. The show-don’t-tell rule is pretty much out the window because of the budget, but their attempts at world building never hit the mark.
That isn’t to say they don’t try a little with this kind of thing. The survivors are all futuristic zealots of various kinds, and there’s a lot of debate on sci-fi religions which are apparently outlawed on Earth; they are all referred to as ‘the banished’. The attempts at social commentary are pretty blunt as it’s slowly revealed that their war over beliefs is simply a war for the resources which the Moon contains. It’s not great, but it’s a theme at least. Elsewhere there are moments in which exiled life is explained, people mine for ice or choose to use up precious air breeding livestock. They talk about the taste of water, or the way enemy oxygen is different. They have helmets that can share digital information but choose to gamble with real playing cards. It’s probably the one attempt to humanise them. Ultimately though much of the talking is just awkward and superfluous, and the rest of the movie doesn’t offer much else.
There are so many heads up display screens in this to the point that it becomes laughable, almost like filler. Whether it’s enemy drones or helmet cams, as well as computers displaying data about the war, they’re everywhere. Action scenes are filled with them, and the constant shifts to POV shots are exhausting. The result is a confusing mess where it’s never clear who is shooting what. This isn’t helped by strange choices in the editing which make everything choppy and disconnected. The use of fade to black transitions is also really strange considering this was made for a festival screening, not television. Only one sequence is effective, as the troopers come across tunnelling robots that can see them from underground. I’d like to see a movie just of that; moon Graboids.
Unless you have a thing for moon dust there isn’t really a lot to recommend here. The costumes are cheap but have a certain cardboard charm, but the spaceship effects don’t get a pass. After a while it starts to feel like an FMV video from the old Westwood Studios strategy games, but without the novelty of Ray Wise from RoboCop talking to you. The location lends itself to the budget but it’s very dark and very grey, with a lot of walking and talking. In the end it feels too much like a 90 minute slog, one that captures the idea of trudging across a barren wasteland a little too well.