Stranded (2013)

The trouble with Stranded is that it is not a good film. Nor is it a truly terrible one. Instead, it possesses elements of both but the allure of neither, leaving it (appropriately, but disappointingly) stranded somewhere in the middle.

The crew consists of exasperated voice of reason Col. Gerald Brauchman (Slater), brooding Dr Lance Krauss (Fehr), along with crewmates Ava (Matysio) and Bruce (Therriault). Writers Roger Christian and Christian Betley decide to not waste time establishing characters (an omission never rectified), and so the film opens with an immediate serving of miniature model moon base, meteor storm, and a broken carbon monoxide filtration unit. Ava volunteers to fix the issue, and after doing so decides that it’s a really good idea to bring a meteor she found back into the space ship.

Because it’s interesting.

What with all the spores covering it.

She doesn’t even put it in a plastic bag. She just trots around with it, like a happy dog that dug up a hand grenade at the beach. When the doctor runs tests on the mystery spores, and a test tube breaks, Eva cleverly picks up the shards of broken glass and meteor spore gloop. Shockingly, she cuts herself, runs off to collapse in secret, and when she comes to she is in the medical ward, apparently eight months pregnant with an alien meteor spore gloop baby.

Or is she? Confusing matters is the doctor’s warning that the earlier carbon monoxide leak can cause “mild auditory or visual hallucinations”. Perhaps Bruce says it best when he states prosaically: “I figure we’ve all got cabin fever. Maybe a touch of carbon monoxide poisoning. . . Maybe one of these spores infected [Eva], created some weird… shit.”

Maybe it infected her. Maybe it didn’t. Here lies a central element of the film. What is real? What is imagined? Here also lies a major problem. I distinctly remember seeing videos about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, and they were typically dull affairs involving people getting sleepy and dying in a very lethargic fashion on sofas. Occasionally cups of tea were spilled, and Maeve Binchy books fell from unconscious hands. Not once did someone leap to their feet, and claim to have an alien baby burst forth from their vagina. If the writers of Stranded wanted to forge a sense of ambiguity between the real and imagined, I think they would have done far better to find a more plausible, or at least more creative, reason. Director Roger Christian’s (of Battlefield Earth infamy) attempts to recreate Event Horizon influenced feverish visions also land painfully short, and a scene with a demonic creature on a treadmill, speed walking, naked buttocks gliding menacingly, will no doubt linger in the audience’s memory, but I suspect for all the wrong reasons. Stylistically the film also borrows heavily from other sources, notably Alien and Prometheus, but perhaps most damning of all was the fact I was reminded of Red Dwarf’s “Quarantine” episode, Mr Fwibbles and all.

The one element that elevates this film is the cast. To their ever lasting credit, none of the lines are delivered with a tangible sense of shame, which is an outstanding feat with a script this unwieldy. Christian Slater is inherently watchable, and has lost none of the on screen charm that saw him dominate 90′s cinema. The role doesn’t stretch him in the slightest, but he wears it comfortably, sauntering through the film with his familiar rasp. Amy Matysio excels at the emotional outskirts, and brings wonderful moments of vulnerability, rage and fear to the screen, while Micheal Therriault copes admirably with the hysteria demanded of him. Sadly, Brendan Fehr gets the rough end of the stick with the script, with whole swathes seemingly copied and pasted from wikipedia articles, or heavy with tautology (“It could transmogrify, it could mutate, it could evolve”) and his character suffers the most from the lack of development. He has an interesting presence on screen, but the role itself is something of a non-event. On reflection, it is a curious quirk of the film that, had the acting been worse, this film would probably be warmer received. Their efforts prevent it from teetering into the “So bad it’s good” category.

There’s no escaping the fact this is a low budget movie. I own the communication device they use throughout the moon base. That is to say, I own an illuminated bookmark from The Works (rrp £2.99), which I bought so I can read at night without my husband bristling his beard at me. I can’t help but feel that if you are going to use a commercially available illuminated bookmark in your sci fi horror movie, you should at least make a token gesture to spray paint it silver, or blue tac an LED to it. The set was so studded with re-purposed objects that it became vaguely reminiscent of those scavenger hunt PC games where have 2 minutes to scour a cluttered room for the solar panel from outdoor fairy lights, a scientific calculator, and a joystick. It’s a jarring feature of the production which, while amusing, does distract.

Stranded is an odd creature. If it was a worse film, it would be worth watching for the novelty value. If it was a better film, it would be worth watching for the actors. Instead, it inhabits a strange no-man’s land, with an under utilised cast, a cumbersome script, and a demonic meteor spore baby. I suspect it could form the central ingredient in a rather good drinking game, but if you’re stone cold sober, I’d recommend watching the material that influenced it rather than the film itself.

Rating: ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

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