“Beyond a joke!”
There is no greater sin in storytelling than “it was all a dream”. One might be screaming “SPOILERS!” at this review right now, but there’s a get out technicality here. The reason “it was all a dream” is such a sin is because it entirely nullifies the story that preceded it. And if the story that preceded it is rendered entirely inconsequential and meaningless, there’s nothing really to spoil, is there?
Writers and directors Joseph Baker and Tom Large’s Beyond is particularly guilty of this sin. Especially so as it does not have the good graces to provide even an entertaining inconsequence.
Beyond is a self-consciously low-fi British sci-fi flick, pitching itself somewhere at the nexus between Monsters and Under the Skin. Those films had real visual and conceptual inventiveness and creativity, despite both being produced on a low budget. Beyond can’t even boast that unfortunately, coming off as some kind of feeble District 9 in the English countryside.
The story sees lead and pretty much only characters Cole (Richard J. Darnum) and Maya (Gillian MacGregor) making their way across rural post-alien… something… Britain, searching for a passage to Scandinavia where humans have allegedly found safe refuge. What the aliens want or even what they’ve done is never made clear. Is this an alien invasion? Have they occupied planet earth? Have they killed most of the population? That would be the most obvious occurrence. However Maya seems particularly insistent that the aliens might not have aggressive intentions and might actually be here to make friends. Obviously she wouldn’t have been totally oblivious to the global extermination of the human race; or at least one would hope that hadn’t passed her by. She seems to be no less witless than her counterpart Cole, so we have to entertain the idea that she’s right, and that:
a) She believes the aliens accidentally exterminated everyone and the spaceship scouring the landscape is on a desperate mission to profusely apologise to every remaining human on the planet.
b) No extermination took place at all and humanity bricked it in unbeatable and truly spectacular fashion, committing mass suicide for the most part, while the remainder dropped everything and travelled to the frozen north.
We have to entertain one or the other unless we’re to completely write off almost 50% of Beyond’s characters as absolute lunatics or the stupidest people that ever lived. Pre- or post-annihilation.
If Maya was a monumental idiot it would however render at least one of the characters, on some level, compelling. Lead characters don’t need to be necessarily likeable or sympathetic, but they do need to be at least interesting. Cole and Maya were a real chore to spend time with.
Cole is a tedious shoe-gazer and nothing more. It’s like an attempt at character realism has been confused with infusing no character into the role whatsoever. A mumbling, grumbling vacuum, and that’s pretty much it.
Maya is no better either, devoid of any mood other than moping (and you could definitely get a few more moods out of the end of the world than moping). Her thoughts are limited to how badly her relationship with Cole is going (the end of the world is a romance killer, admittedly), her inability to have a baby, and the notion that these aliens are just misunderstood intergalactic nice guys.
To be fair to her, Cole is mostly stuck on the “isn’t the apocalypse rubbish” setting.
Yes Cole, the apocalypse is rubbish.
Spending time with Cole and Maya is exacerbated by the slow, plodding plot. Beyond is going for a slow burn, but it ends up just slow. The duo vaguely move around the desolate countryside, occasionally dipping into an abandoned house. There’s one genuine moment of interest as they happen across a woman and her baby, both dead, having locked themselves in a cupboard long ago. The interest mainly comes from how the woman managed to secure chains and a padlock around the cupboard while being on the inside of it, but it’s something.
Even the inclusion of aliens as a backdrop to the plot is a nonstarter. In Monsters the aliens were integral, building tension and a fascinating, fraught world while allowing the characters to connect. They were also impressive and unusual to behold. An attempt at a similar application of invaders doesn’t work here. Their design is particularly uninspired and their appearances haphazardly punctuate the story to scare characters into finishing conversations that weren’t really going anywhere. Their inept use leaves the film like the space the aliens travelled through to get here: without atmosphere.
We don’t need to see the invasion/accidental extermination, the human flight to other lands, or the characters’ families being destroyed. We do need a sense, however, that all these things have been fleshed out behind the scenes so they can be reflected in the characters’ and story’s nuances. The ambiguity needs to come from these things being worked out. Here it seems that “ambiguity” is just an answer to questions raised, an unacceptable substitute for building a convincing situation.
If such excessive boredom and laziness wasn’t enough to contend with, it then gives you the final insult, a real slap in the face. Not only did it feel like a slog, but the slog never actually meant anything. “It was all a dream.”
We wish it was. We’d have at least got some benefit from the sleep. Beyond a joke.
Writers/Directors: Joseph Baker, Tom Large
Starring: Richard J. Danum, Gilliam MacGregor, Paul Brannigan
Release date: 12 January 2015
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