In a summer of super-sized sci-fi, Duncan “Son of David Bowie” Jones’ feature debut makes a potent case for non-proligacy.
More tender and transcendent than Terminator Salvation, more scruffy than Star Trek, Moon is a near-one-hander, shot in 33 days and stressing conceptual sci-fi preferences over conspicuous cash-flinging.
With Silent Running’s sadness and Alien’s craggy conviction as precedents, its scale is small but its ideas – about being human, essentially – are big.
The slippery focus is Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), a near-future astronaut reaching the end of a three-year contract to facilitate mining energy sources on the glum side of the moon.
Sam is eager to go home to his family; who wouldn’t be if they only had Kevin Spacey’s insinuating voice for company in the shape of a proto-HAL robo-pal called GERTY? No wonder Sam’s psyche starts splintering.
Headaches and hallucinations cause him to crash his space rover during a lunar jaunt. In sick bay, his visions intensify…
What follows doesn’t just probe what’s up with Sam. It asks who he is, why he’s here, anatomising identity on existential lines. This gives Rockwell much to rise to, and he does so with grace, depth and range enough to draw empathy and suggest a troubled past simultaneously.
Old-school model-work effects and limited-scale set designs are deployed to similar ends: rugged-metal reality is matched to a more abstract, claustrophobic kind of head-space, fusing allegory with interior psychodrama.
Subterranean thrills and chills are provided in a “something in the cellar” fashion, but the nature of what’s down there is properly complex. Moon is tense but it also expertly wrong-foots us, dodging potential clichés in favour of emotive, intelligent revelations.
It’d be wrong to say “twists”, because Nathan Parker’s script drip-feeds Hitchcockian suspense instead of delivering fastforgotten shocks. The reveals do satisfy, though, so dodge those spoilers.
We’ll see and enjoy bigger films this summer, but Jones’ psychological space odyssey hardly puts a moon boot wrong.
Fans of speculative and conceptual sci-fi and classic storytelling should take this trip to identity’s dark side. The direction is elegant, the acting impeccable. Take the trip.