Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir Garth Davis
scr Iain Reid, Garth Davis
prd Kerry Kohansky-Roberts, Iain Canning, Garth Davis, Emile Sherman
with Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal, Aaron Pierre, Jordan Chodziesner, William Freeman, Jalen Ong, Patrick Williams, David Woods, Yesse Spence, Shamita Siva, Tahlee Fereday, Shannon Berry
release US 6.Oct.23,
UK 20.Oct.23
23/Australia Amazon 1h50

ronan mescal pierre
london film fest

Is it streaming?

ronan and mescal
Beautifully shot, this lightly futuristic romantic thriller centres tightly on three characters who are skilfully played with intense emotionality. But filmmaker Garth Davis tries to be tricky with a plot that simply doesn't hold water. Explanations come far too late to put anything that happens into context, so watching the film is an exercise in frustration. Even so, it has some important things to say about curiosity and compassion.
In 2065, as the world writhes from climate catastrophes, Junior (Mescal) has retreated to his isolated Midwestern family farm with his wife Hen (Roman), who bristles against his simple expectations. Then the mysterious Terrance (Pierre) turns up, announcing that Junior has been conscripted to serve in a space station preparing for life on other planets. And he'll be replaced by an artificial bio-lifeform to help Hen run the farm. But this process takes years, and even as Junior and Hen find a new reconnection, the mental strain begins to show as Terrance studies their relationship.
It's achingly clear from the start that something else is going on here, with jagged fragments of conversation, inexplicable mood swings and surreal situations. There's also the nagging question of why the Outermore corporation doesn't just send their androids to work, rather than painstakingly recreating human replacements. And if it's a government experiment, then it's downright cruel. That said, Davis beautifully depicts the parched landscape and futuristic tech, which intriguingly doesn't seem quite advanced enough.

The focus is on emotionality over plot, and both Ronan and Mescal are mesmerising. Junior and Hen are struggling to cope with daily realities, and their clashes come from their differing approaches to the situation. This allows the actors to create riveting chemistry that's infused with intense layers of feeling. And as the interloper, Pierre has terrific presence, especially in moments of offhanded wit. Terrance keeps his motives to himself, but Pierre reveals nuances in his personality.

At its core, this is a story about the importance of remaining alert to the present in a relationship, rather than getting lost in the past or future. Some of the ways the script deals with this are badly heavy-handed, such as how Hen's beloved piano is banished to the basement because it creates bad memories for Junior, or something. These are movie gimmicks rather than real-life touches. And so is the central premise, which is never quite believable, especially as the plot continues to twist unnecessarily into the final act.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 10.Oct.23 lff

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall