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EIFF 2018: Solis (2018) written and directed by Carl Strathie

N.B. This film is not on wide release in the UK at present. It was shown at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2018.

Here comes the sun… it’s not alright

This sci-fi adventure features Steven Ogg as Troy Holloway, a mining prospector who wakes up floating through space in a damaged escape pod, alongside the corpse of one of his dead colleagues. Shortly after regaining consciousness, he is contacted by Roberts (Alice Lowe), the commander of a company vessel. The two get off on the wrong foot as Troy wants to get through to his own commanding officer and she stubbornly refuses to allow him to do so. However, she maintains that she is committed to helping him - and with his pod drifting inexorably towards a nearby sun, he urgently needs it.

Watch a trailer:

An impressive small-scale sci-fi adventure

Carl Strathie’s debut feature Solis fits very much into the same space survival adventure category as Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013), albeit made in Britain on a low budget and without any major stars. It also feels rather like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) without Kubrick’s artily drawn-out approach and Alien (1979)… well… without any aliens. That all said, it stands out as an impressive little film in its own right.

It is set entirely in one tiny vessel floating through the great cosmos. The cast is limited to just two actors: the Canadian Steven Ogg and Sightseers/Prevenge star Alice Lowe. Even then, the latter only features in the form of a disembodied voice which is regularly heard over the intercom. While it is hard to imagine such a constrained setup keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat throughout 90 minutes, Solis manages to achieve just that.

The effectively-handled relationship between the two central characters is a large component in maintaining both tension and interest. One has just woken up from one nightmare only to land in another, being as he is adrift in space in a cramped and damaged vessel. The other is a stranger who initially comes across as being both impersonal and patronising, as if she has no real grasp of what her contact has both been through and is currently going through. Understandably, friction and distrust are bound to develop.

However, a string of life-threatening scenarios quickly begin to rear their ugly heads: the craft is drifting inexorably towards being burnt up by the sun, its internal temperature control is threatening to kill its passenger with pneumonia, the oxygen levels are plummeting to a perilously low level and a number of cracks are starting to appear on the porthole window. Carl Strathie cranks the suspense up to agonising levels as Holloway and Roberts attempt to rectify each situation despite the former having to endure extremes of heat and cold, along with the threat of mental deterioration via radiation or lack of oxygen. There is some great use made of editing, lighting, claustrophobic camerawork and what limited visual effects the budget allows here.

During the few welcome lulls between the heights of knife-edge tension, a more human dimension begins to creep into the Holloway/Roberts relationship as they make a number of revelations and confessions to each other. Even though it’s just two actors talking, the script and performances deepen and broaden the story considerably, lifting what could have been a simple “in the moment” adventure thriller to another level.

The open, ambiguous ending has a trippy, 2001-style feel to it without feeling pretentious or self-indulgent. It’s a fitting capper to a film which really deserves a wider audience.

Runtime: 90 mins

Dir: Carl Strathie

Script: Carl Strathie

Starring: Steven Ogg, Alice Lowe

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

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