In the recent Species II, a highly decorated astronaut
returned to earth carrying a vicious, predatory alien creature intent
on destroying life on earth. The Astronaut's Wife takes the same
concept, but explores it on a far more subtle and visceral level,
injecting the intriguing premise with a healthy dose of paranoia and
90's style cynicism. This eerie, stylish but low key paranoid
thriller also adds a healthy dose of low key horror, reminiscent of
the classic Rosemary's Baby, although ultimately it fails to deliver.
During an unexpected accident in space, shuttle astronaut
Spencer Armacost (Johnny Depp) loses contact with earth for a couple
of minutes. During that time something mysterious happens that leaves
him and his partner Alex Streck (Nick Cassavetes) in a coma. When he
recovers Spencer somehow seems different. The changes in his
personality are slight, but they are enough to unnerve his emotionally
fragile wife Jillian (Charlize Theron, from The Devil's Advocate and
Mighty Joe Young, etc).
When a tragedy befalls the Strecks, Spencer decides to leave
the space program to take up an executive position with an
aeronautical company developing a new high tech weapons system. He
also leaves sunny Florida for the claustrophobic confines of new York,
a city he supposedly hates with a passion. Jillian reluctantly
follows him, but becomes more and more spooked by his behaviour. Then
Reese (Joe Morton), a disgraced former NASA employee, approaches her
with frantic messages and dire warnings that her husband may not be
the man she married. Did something happen to him in space during
those lost two minutes? Is she pregnant with an alien life form?
First time director Rand Ravich (whose previous credits
include the script for Candyman II: Farewell To The Flesh) doesn't
give easy answers to many of the questions raised by the plot, forcing
audiences to do some of the work in piecing together the details of
this challenging, unusual film. Ravich develops a nicely ambiguous
mood, and we are not quite sure whether the unstable Jillian is
imagining things or not.
Ravich opts for creating an unsettling atmosphere here, and he
certainly gives us that in spades. Much of the credit for the film's
cold and deliberately unsettling ambience and visual style goes to
veteran cinematographer Allen Daviau. His unnerving use of close-ups
imbue inanimate objects with a very real sense of menace, and his very
mobile camera adds movement to otherwise static scenes. The
impressive production design and the cold interior of the Armacost's
sterile apartment also enhance the film's mood.
The performances are also interesting, and underscore the
ambiguous tone. Depp continues to find interesting roles outside the
mainstream of American cinema, although he gives a fairly one-
dimensional and uninspired performance here. Although his understated
performance hints at madness, somehow he never seems as menacing or as
chilling as he should be. This is actually Theron's film, as she is
in every scene and virtually every frame. The camera loves her and
spends an inordinate amount of time ravishing her in close up. This
unfortunately distracts from her performance, which is a mixture of
appealing vulnerability and strength. Morton is also good as the
deeply disturbed Reese.
The Astronaut's Wife is an off beat, low key and down beat
sci-fi thriller that lacks the broad appeal, spectacular pyrotechnics
and visual effects of most big budget Hollywood blockbusters.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King