London Film Festival 2018: First Look Review – Alone In Space

A few days ago, there was a report telling us that we have about 12 years to fundamentally change how we treat our planet, or climate change will be both irreversible and catastrophic. Alone in Space never tells us outright why the Earth was dying, meaning the giant spaceship on which we find 12 year old Gladys (Ella Rae Rappaport) and her six year old brother Keaton (Dante Fleischanderl) was built, but you could certainly fit a message about climate change to the situation here. That’s just one of several themes that lightly attach themselves to what is, largely, simply a kids adventure movie about what happens when a craft crashes into Gladys and Keaton’s ship, bringing with it an alien they name ‘Voyager’ (Henrik Ståhl).

Compact at just 83 minutes, Alone in Space divides roughly into two parts. The first half is spent with Gladys and Keaton as they go about normal life aboard Svea XIV, by themselves but for a computer that only sporadically works and speaks only Japanese. Not a lot actually happens in this section of the film, but it allows its young stars to build credible characters that we enjoy following. Inevitably it is Keaton who misses his mother, who he calls ‘Speedy’ (Aliette Opheim) more. Each morning he asks the computer to play back the same video file, of Gladys filming Speedy holding him as a baby. We learn that Speedy went out into space some time ago and hasn’t yet returned, though Gladys promises her brother that she will, soon. The close relationship between brother and sister is nicely established here and Rappaport and Fleischanderl, as well as giving appealing and convincing performances in their own right, bounce off each other well.

This convincing closeness between Gladys and Keaton also helps in the film’s second half, when Voyager’s presence threatens to be a wedge between them. Keaton, hoping that the strange noises they heard after the crash signalled that his mother was, at last, back, views the new arrival with suspicion. Again, we can see messages in here, lightly touched upon but there for those who want to explain them to the target audience, about Gladys and Keaton as refugees and about the way that we can – usually wrongly – view outsiders with an assumption that they mean us harm. Voyager, so named because Gladys spots that he’s carrying a golden record, sent out with the space probe of that name, is a great character. I think he’s realised largely through a suit rather than CGI, but either way the effects are seriously impressive for a film that was likely made for a fraction of the cost of an American studio film. Thanks to Henrik Ståhl and to the way that Ella Rae Rappaport interacts with him, Voyager always has real presence in a scene. The building of their relationship and the way that he slowly tries to win Keaton round is charming. The film does eventually have to give way to something like a typical action finale, but it builds on the kids established characters.

Visually, Alone in Space is a bit of a mixed bag. The design is good, if not wildly original, but the disappointment is the fact that it now seems even Sweden has succumbed to the lure of making their larger budget films entirely in teal and orange. It’s no less irksome here than it has been in the last decade of Hollywood production line garbage. On occasion the brief running time means that the film leaves unaddressed something that could be interestingly explored, this is never more true than with the sequence that explains how the children and Speedy first came to be alone on the spacecraft, which has some pretty horrifying moral implications that could do with further investigation.

While it’s not perfect, and could do more digging into the issues at its heart, Alone in Space is an amiable kids adventure movie. The target audience will be thoroughly entertained and their parents will likely be charmed.

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