Jesse O’Brien’s debut feature is solid if unexceptional, remarkable chiefly for the fact that it was made for approximately £100,000 with all interiors shot in the cinematographer’s sister’s shed. The location work, filmed at Coober Pedy in South Australia, is crisp and gorgeous and the score is great, but ultimately Arrowhead suffers from several of the problems first-time low-budget directors face when producing their own projects.
Dan Mor is Kye Cortland, a prisoner turned mercenary who becomes stranded on a desert moon. There’s a political backdrop to his isolation in the shape of Tobias Hatch (Mark Redpath), and a female love interest in the form of Tarren Hollis (Aleisha Rose, with an impeccable American accent), and some peril-inducing sci-fi shenanigans thanks to the planetoid’s unique characteristics. O’Brien manages to pull a fairly satisfying, if formulaically achieved, resolution out of his bag, and there is nothing to offend the sensibilities of those looking for a bit of hard sf escapism.
But the problems are inescapable. Mor is solid and commendably earnest, but with very little light in his performance, and certainly nothing to encourage the viewer to identify with his dilemma. Rose is excellent, although it becomes increasingly hard to believe in her empathy with Cortland but for the nature of their co-seclusion. The film works better during the sequences when she is absent, and Cortland develops a Cast Away style relationship with his mobile computer (the Antipodean accented REEF is a little jarring at first, but soon emerges as the most charming thing in the movie). Again, there is nothing off-putting, but neither is there anything especially to engage with.
It is the writer/director’s influences and the sci-fi conceits that eventually prove conceptually confusing. While the action sequences are slightly clumsy in a way that is forgivable in such a low budgeted film- with a couple of poorly illustrated early imperilment sequences- and the just-about convincing creature designs similarly excusable, there’s a lack of focus on display, that’s a sign of a director too eager to cram in as many ideas as possible without sifting out the ones that are inconsistent with his overall design. The particular properties of the moon upon which most of the action takes place, for example, allow for some unpredictable developments, but largely they’re unexpected because they make little coherent sense.
Arrowhead is by no means a disaster, being entertaining enough and more than competently produced, but it could perhaps have done with a little more modesty in its storytelling ambition. Nevertheless, O’Brien has marked himself out as someone worth watching, and with a little extra discernment, a sprinkling of humour and a soupcon more humanity, his future projects should be a huge improvement.
REVIEW: ARROWHEAD / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JESSE O’BRIEN / SCREENPLAY: JESSE O’BRIEN / STARRING: DAN MOR, ALEISHA ROSE, CHRISTOPHER KIRBY, MARK REDPATH, SHAUN MICALLEF (Voice) / RELEASE DATE: 22ND FEBRUARY