Tuesday, February 16, 2016

SHOCKWAVE DARKSIDE (2014) Shows Promise

Still from "Shockwave Darkside" (2014) - image source: Alien Bee

The premise of "Shockwave Darkside" (2014, NR, 87 min., distributed by Uncork'd Entertainment) is compelling. In a dystopian future involving a depleted and wasted Earth, a war between those who believe in religion and those who do not results in the banishment of believers to the Moon. The war is really over water, which has grown scarce on Earth. When the Unlights (which is what the Banished call the unbelievers) run out of water on Earth, they go after the supplies of the Banished, who have learned how to harvest ice buried deep below the Moon's surface.

The story involves a group of five Banished soldiers who are sent to defend a Banished city that is under attack by the Unlights. Miraculously, some of them survive after Unlight attack satellites shoot down their troop transport ship. They attempt to cross the lunar surface on foot to an extraction point, but they are dogged by Unlight attackers and an attack satellite. Their numbers as well as their supply of air dwindles. While attempting to survive, they make an unexpected discovery that could change the course of the war.

Still of gunship in Shockwave Darkside (2014)
Still of gunship in Shockwave Darkside (2014) - image source: IMDb

The execution of the story is what one would expect from a low-budget, indie production. The film is heavy with low-cost visual special effects and CGI that make it appear like a video game at times. There are too many shots that are framed through distracting heads-up displays on the characters' helmet visors. The Unlight attack satellite tracks them through a radar display that is confusingly abstract. The spacesuits that the characters wear are very boxy and angular, reminiscent of 1960s sci-fi. The characters themselves speak in a jargon that's hard at first to pick up. It's all very retro.

What saves the film from complete failure (defined as deciding to stop watching midway through the viewing) is the dramatic conflict among the group of five. It is based partly on personality clashes and partly on religious ideology. Jay Weisman, the film's writer-director, cleverly devised hybrid religions for his film's universe. This is clever because it avoids offending followers of any real-world religions while still raising the question of coexistence among all human beings, regardless of creed.

Still of Mei Melançon as The Machine in "Shockwave Darkside" (2014)
Still of Mei Melançon as The Machine in "Shockwave Darkside" (2014) - image source: IMDb

A mercenary fighter, Sgt. Dalton (Bill Sage, "We Are What We Are," 2013), represents the neutral ground of this question. He's in it for himself, but he also has a personal stake in the war. His counterpart is another Sergeant, nicknamed "The Machine" (Mei Melançon, "X-Men: The Last Stand," 2006). She motivates her troops with a little bit of carrot and a lot of stick. Underneath her somewhat gruff exterior, she is a mom who is fighting to keep her children alive and safe. Corporal Kim (Rich Ceraulo, "Death Sentence," 2007) is a not-so-faithful Rage Monk who is known for both his fighting skills and his history of insubordination. Private Lang (Sonequa Martin-Green, "The Walking Dead," 2010) and Private Schorr (Alexander Cendese, "Best Man in the Dark," 2014) are two young and naive recruits who have a lot to learn about life.

"Shockwave Darkside" is a 2014 release (at the London FrightFest Film Festival), so why the call for reviews now? A little bit of research reveals that it was picked up by iTunes and Amazon Prime Video, where it can be viewed now. It's recommended less as entertainment than as a calling card for the filmmakers. This movie could be good with a minor script rewrite and a remake with a much larger budget. It is always an ambitious undertaking to do a science-fiction film of this type when the filmmakers have problems with financing. However, this film and its filmmakers show promise. Given the success of such Hollywood fare as "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent," it is not inconceivable that a remake of "Shockwave Darkside" could be a successful mainstream sci-fi movie, given the right backers.

TFK's Rating (on IMDb): 3 out of 10 stars (in its current form)

Disclosure: October Coast provided TFK with access to an online screener of the film for review purposes only. This website and its author received no monetary compensation for this review.