Review: “Somnus” Falls Short of Being an Epic, Sci-fi Thriller

 

 
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Direction
4.0


 
Acting
4.0


 
Plot
3.0


 
Execution
3.0


 
Total Score
3.5


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Posted November 18, 2016 by

 
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“In the far reaches of our galaxy, a cargo vessel crash lands on an asteroid colonized by forgotten inhabitants with a dark past”. This was the intriguing description of “Somnus” at Amazon Video, and as a big fan of sci-fi space adventures, I was definitely excited to give it a look. Still, with all of the blockbuster features released in the past few years, I couldn’t help but wonder how a modestly-budgeted movie would actually hold up in this hyper-competitive genre. I’ve seen enough good independent films by now to know that limited resources, an inexperienced writer/director, and a largely no-name cast does not have to be a recipe for disaster, but there were bound to be some challenges.

The tale, which is written in three parts, begins at a train station in 1952, where a police officer gives an elderly professor a mysterious booklet for safekeeping. I use the word mysterious, because disappointingly, it is never again referenced. It appears to be a scientific journal of some kind, and although we are not privy to the exact contents, it is generally understood to be of vital importance. This first scene, which only accounts for about five minutes of screen-time, is genuinely engaging, but unfortunately feels woefully disconnected to the rest of the narrative.

Fast forward 300 years, where a cargo ship in deep space is on a routine mission. There are four crew members on board, as well as a self-aware, interactive computer system named Meryl (Griffiths). The Captain of the craft, Harry Emerson (McMahon) is on his final mission, and is clearly struggling with some issues from his past, as evidenced by a series of dreamy flashback sequences that occur every 10 to 15 minutes throughout. Soon it becomes clear that Meryl has a not- so- secret agenda of her own, as she kills off two of the less relevant crew members. Eventually, the ship is forced to land on a remote asteroid, where the final act takes place.

somnus-2The inhabitants of the asteroid – a forgotten penal colony- prove to be less than hospitable, and have plans of their own for the beleaguered vessel. After a couple of uninteresting encounters, Emerson emerges as the last man standing, which leads to a finale that is as predictable as it is unsatisfying. These final 20 minutes on the asteroid, which were clearly intended to be the climax of the story, would have been laughable, if they hadn’t been so utterly pathetic. In the end, I was left wondering how a film with such an interesting premise could have fallen so flat.

The main problem here is that the screenplay is very poorly written. There is no tension, no sense of pacing, just random events unfolding before our eyes. The middle section of the film, (for example) which contains a surprisingly small amount of dialog, and even less action, drones on and on for no good reason. For everything it accomplishes, it could have been at least 25 minutes shorter. Another issue I had was with the character of Meryl, who is merely a dollar store version of the HAL 9000 computer in Stanley Kubrick’s classic “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Are we supposed to be fooled by Meryl’s female persona? I don’t think so. Oh, and what is the deep dark secret shared by the people on the asteroid? Apart from an open distain for personal hygiene, I honestly have no idea. somnus-3

On a more positive note, the acting is mostly serviceable, and the picture looks fairly decent; not amazing, not spectacular, but decent. In particular, the flashback sequences are beautifully shot, and for the briefest of moments, lend an almost artistic quality to the film. The first of these scenes is useful in developing Emerson’s character, but the remaining four or five are nothing more than a distraction, killing whatever small amount of momentum the film could have hoped to generate.

“Somnus” was an ambitious attempt that promised much, but ultimately failed to deliver the goods. With better writing and a little more original material it might have had a chance, but as it stands, the film simply does not have enough redeeming qualities here to be recommended on any level. The bottom line; there are too many truly captivating sci-fi movies out there to justify wasting your time on this one. If you’re not in the mood to check out one of those, just take a nap instead.


MikeD

 


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