I’m generally 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 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. On the surface this has those kinds of elements as a band of soldiers make their way across the lunar surface during a war for the moon’s resources. After their ship goes down they become 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 settling their own idealogical differences.
It’s a thought provoking set-up, but unfortunately this synopsis gives the film far too much credit and it all falls apart in the execution. The main issue is the script which doesn’t really capitalise on any of these interesting elements. The result is a story full of cartoon characters who do nothing but spout futuristic jargon instead of forming a sympathetic ensemble. Like so many others they try to create that Starship Troopers or Aliens tone filled with banter and inane dialogue, but it has no personality and it comes off as clunky and unnecessarily complicated. The cast just doesn’t talk like human beings as they reel off sound bites and quips with questionable effectiveness. To top all of this off they simply don’t have the charisma or the acting chops.
The show-don’t-tell rule is pretty much out the window because of the budget, but as things progress the story’s attempts at world building never hit the mark either. Which is a shame as they have made some effort in that department. The survivors are all futuristic zealots of various kinds and there’s a lot of debate on sci-fi religions. These groups have apparently been outlawed on Earth; they are all referred to as ‘the banished’. The film-makers attempts to include some social commentary are pretty blunt to say the least; it’s slowly revealed that their war over different 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 and characters explain why they wanted to mine for ice or chose to give up precious air breeding livestock. They talk about the taste of real water, or the way enemy oxygen supplies are different. They have helmets that have the technology to share digital information but instead they choose to gamble with real playing cards. It’s probably the one attempt to humanise them which is nice to see when everything else is so rickety. Ultimately though much of the dialogue is just awkward and superfluous, and the rest of the movie doesn’t offer much real food for thought. It focuses too much on technology instead of people.
There are so many heads up displays to the point that it sometimes becomes laughable. It’s an interesting way to add padding to the run time but it’s still clearly filler. Whether it’s the enemy drones and helmet cams or the computers displaying live data about the war, they are screens everywhere. Even action scenes are filled with them and the constant shifts to internal perspective shots are exhausting. The result is a confusing mess where it’s never clear who is shooting at what or why. This isn’t helped by strange choices in the editing room which make everything feel incredibly choppy and disconnected. The use of fade to black transitions is also really strange considering this was originally made for a festival screening, not television.
Only one sequence is legitimately effective as the troopers come across some kind of tunnelling robots. The machines can see them from underground but the humans are at an obvious disadvantage. Perhaps they should have focused on this sequence and made a whole film about that; Graboids on the moon. But unless you have a serious thing for dust there isn’t really a lot to recommend here. In terms of production design the costumes are very cheap but they do at least have a certain kind of cardboard charm. The lousy spaceship effects on the other hand don’t get a pass. After a while it starts to feel like a left over FMV sequence from the old Westwood Studios strategy games, but without the novelty of Ray Wise or Udo Keir talking to you.
The location itself obviously lends itself to the shoe string budget they’re working with. But the way it’s depicted is just very dark and very grey, and the story is just a lot of slow walking and talking. There are fleeting glimpses here and there of what the film-makers might have had in mind, but the results never come together in a compelling way. I guess the same could be said of dozens of video on demand releases floating around out there in the cold recesses of cyber space. In the end it feels too much like a ninety minute slog, one that captures the idea of trudging across a barren wasteland a little too well. Which I don’t think is the viewing experience the creators had in mind.