Friday 28 August 2020

Solitary (UK 2020: Dir Luke Armstrong) NEW WAVE OF THE BRITISH FANTASTIC FILM 2020

When Isaac Havelock (Johnny Sachon) wakes up he's in a small, self contained chamber. The only other occupant is Alana Skill (Lottie Tolhurst) and he has no idea where he is. The room's single porthole gives a clue; they're both 150 miles above earth in a space capsule.

It's the year 2044 and both Isaac and Alana are prisoners, sentenced by the court not to a prison sentence, but transportation; a form of punishment originally discontinued in the UK in the 1850s, but reintroduced to deal with a population explosion and a dying planet. They are both part of the Samsara project, which uses prisoners to colonise and populate other worlds, easing the pressure on earth's resources. But there's a problem: the ship with which they were due to dock and continue their journey has exploded, and their capsule, along with a number of others, is currently drifting loose with no way for central control to bring it back to earth.

This is the core premise which Armstrong uses to build his movie, essentially a character study of two different people, thrown together and dependent on each other for survival. Of course the fact that they're both criminals means that the co-operative process isn't smooth sailing (although Isaac's past reveals him to be a man more sinned against than sinning). The craft's only other occupant is an invisible one: Eva, the onboard computer, with a voice that sounds like every automated banking service you've ever used (and cursed). External contacts are restricted to ground control, who intermittently messages them, a media company who want the skinny on what's really going on and who was responsible for the ship exploding, and the occasional call to Isaac's ex.

London in 2044: just on of the impressive effects in Solitary
Solitary, which started off life as a short film, is a sedate piece. In his debut feature Armstrong chooses slow story development over a flashier quick edit approach - often a fallback for directors working with limited set resources - and most of the movie comprises Isaac and Alana bickering within the constraints of their small capsule, and exploring various moral dilemmas and their own culpability; in fact the sci fi element is little more than a macguffin to create the background for their interactions. But Armstrong, whose background is in sfx, creates a very convincing London skyline twenty four years in the future, and also a backdrop of space and the IT within the capsule, which distract nicely from the limits of the small set.

While there are other cast members, largely included to flesh out Isaac and Alana's backstories, this is essentially a two hander (three if you count Kathryn Vinclaire, the voice of Eva) and Sachon and Tolhurst both do well with a script that is serviceable but never remarkable. Solitary isn't overly flashy, and its human concerns, favoured over spectacle and bombast, make it ideal for a small screen watch. It's to the director's credit that he managed to complete the thing during lockdown too.

Inspired Pictures will be releasing Solitary across multi-platforms and in all major retailers on Monday 31 August.

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