The best independent science fiction film since “Moon” [SXSW]

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(This review originally aired during our coverage of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival. Perspective opens in New York and Los Angeles tomorrow, November 2, 2018.)

Perspective exists in an immense universe, the scope of which is beyond the mind and the imagination. And we’re only entitled to the smallest, most tantalizing preview. A taste. What a taste that is.

Here’s an indie sci-fi film so aware of its inevitable budget limitations that it incorporates them into its own mystique. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but evocative descriptions of a dozen unique planets and invisible societies are worth $ 100 million. The scale of Perspective sits invisible in the margins, placing this little survival story right in the middle of a galaxy the film dares us to imagine. There is something special about it. Something powerful. And it definitely helps that Perspective is led by characters who immediately invest us in what is happening. We want to follow them, to know more about them, because maybe they will guide us to the worlds they keep talking about.

Set in the indefinite future as imagined from the ’70s (think analog spaceships and technology from Ridley Scott’s Extraterrestrial), Perspective intentionally feels like an artifact. Here’s a movie that looks like an adaptation of a long-lost sci-fi novel, the first in a series of skinny adventures found in your father’s library. Books with covers featuring men and women wearing space suits and in danger, traversing alien landscapes and dodging laser fire. Books whose stripped-down prose reflects the desire to tell a personal story in an otherworldly setting. The detail, the grand scale of it all, is just an amazing background color for the most immediate and grounded narrative.

Directors Chris Caldwell and Zeek Count have created a kind of technical miracle with Perspective. This movie looks awesome – it’s hands down the most successful sci-fi movie since Duncan Jones. Moon. And like Moon, this finesse serves a heart-wrenching and intimate story. The characters pull you through everything, even if you get lost in the details.

Perspective plunges us into the deep end and asks us to follow. Young Cee (Sophie thatcher) and his father Damon (Jay duplass) venture to a distant alien moon to search for valuable resources mined from alien creatures that live underground. He’s a drug addict, a mess, a jack-of-all-trades looking to find that last score. Her life seems to consist of being dragged to any nasty gig her father has dug up. Much remains to be said between them.

And of course, things go wrong. Their ship crashes and they soon meet the sleazy Ezra (Pierre Pascal), which washed up on the moon for a long time. And soon enough, with the countdown until they have to leave the moon or be stranded forever, everyone is fighting to survive. Not like you think.

As Cee, Sophie Thatcher provides one hell of a heroine: resourceful, determined and overwhelmed, yet unwilling to give up. It’s the kind of performance that should make her a star. As the deceptive Ezra, Pedro Pascal manages to conjure up the dashing rascals of more famous sci-fi tales while being broken, pathetic, and desperate enough to do anything to survive. It’s the kind of performance that proves he should have been a star a long time ago. Thatcher and Pascal share a lot of screen time in Perspective and their cautious alliance is the hook of the whole movie – they have to rely on each other while stubbornly refusing to trust each other.

What happens here is a very simple survival story, of space explorers confronted with a hostile planet and its often hostile visitors (and its poisoned air that requires a suit and plenty of fresh air filters). It’s the flavor sprinkled on top that makes everything click. These characters are so rooted in their world, so carefully written and interpreted to be one with their larger universe, that they say a lot about what we don’t see. Descriptions of previous homes and jobs conjure up awe-inspiring images. Conversations about favorite books suggest a larger culture that exists just beyond this moon. Thatcher and Pascal offer performances so vivid that they paint a portrait of a tired world rich in history. Perspective is our window on a sprawling universe. There are more stories than these, the film promises.

It certainly helps that Perspective Looks fantastic. Dented spaceships. The weathered spacesuits. The weaponry that seems to descend from a technology that is both ancient and futuristic. It collides, by design, with the untouched alien world the film takes place on, a forest rewritten as something hostile and unknowable through minor touches rather than expansive CGI. It’s a low budget movie, but it never looks cheap. It’s a little movie, but it never feels compromised.

Perspective is the kind of sci-fi movie we need to see more often, told by filmmakers who don’t allow the vastness of their vision to be diminished by the scope in which they are able to work. It’s a gripping story of trust, survival, and redemption set in a universe that demands further exploration. i don’t need a Perspective following. He stands alone. But it left me hungry for more.

/ Movie rating: 8 out of 10

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