Poor Norman Reedus can’t seem to catch a break. Fresh from fighting The Walking Dead in one post-apocalyptic wasteland, he’s stuck with the task of keeping humanity alive in another. In Air, the debut feature from video game writer Christian Cantamessa, the Earth has been all but destroyed by chemical weapons; Reedus’ Bauer and Djimon Hounsou’s Cartwright are the maintenance workers who wake up every six months to perform checks on the underground bunker they, and hundreds of other cryogenically frozen survivors, live in.
And then one day, for some reason or other, Cartwright’s bed sets on fire. Bugger. Unless they find him a new one, he won’t be able to go back into stasis – and there isn’t an Ikea in sight. This quest leads to tensions rising between the two workers and dark secrets about humanity being uncovered.
It’s a good concept for a low-budget character-based sci-fi drama, but the way the story plays out is, frankly, frustrating. The characters and world are set up nicely – Bauer’s the untidy one who won’t stop singing The Clash, Cartwright just wants to get his job done but is hiding the fact he’s having visions of his lost love. There’s clear tension here, and Reedus and Hounsou convey this unstable friendship nicely. And then they spend half the film looking on some shelves for a bed.
When events do ramp up, there are some well played moments of conflict, with one scene in particular, in which Bauer finds himself in mortal danger and it’s unclear where Cartwright is, planting a lot of intriguing questions in the mind. However, the ending again feels weak, as a major twist is forgotten about and a final showdown limps along unthrillingly; Cartwright supposedly going mad is repeatedly mentioned, but the film doesn’t have the guts to fully pursue this, and the visions of his lover (Holt) end up feeling too much of an awkward cliché.
Nevertheless, Cantamessa and production designer Brian Kane have done a good job of making the bunker into an effectively claustrophobic setting, with the technology being a great cross between futuristic and falling apart, in the same way that made iconic sets such as the Nostromo and the Millennium Falcon so believable. The pair’s rooms are decorated with great little character-adding details – a poster of a cat keeps them motivated. The sequence where Cartwright ventures out of the bunker lets the visuals down, though – the darkness and tight angles with which it’s shot give away the low budget.
So there’s a lot to like here, especially for a director’s debut film; the intriguing concept, strong performances and impressive visuals almost make up for the fact that a lot of it is about fixing a bed.
Special Features: Featurettes
AIR / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: CHRISTIAN CANTAMESSA / SCREENPLAY: CHRISTIAN CANTAMESSA, CHRIS PASETTO / STARRING: DJIMON HOUNSOU, NORMAN REEDUS, SANDRINE HOLT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW