By Elias Savada.
If you create a film and title it to suggest it’s the beginning of a series, you better hope that your audience will arrive in quantity and that your product will offer up quality. Tossing in some originality would help, too, rather than using the beg-borrow-and-steal approach for this low-budget effort from Australian director Shane Abbess (Gabriel, Infini). The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One is an adequate retread of tropes found in Avatar and the Alien franchise, offering a futuristic look at an Earthlike planet far, far away being plundered for commercial gain. Bits and pieces (starfighters and a low key cantina) from Star Wars here, a creature that looks plucked from The Fifth Element and grafted on to some wild things from Maurice Sendak over there. The dusty/dirty production design is vaguely reminiscent of any Mad Max film. Mix thoroughly and sprinkle in shopworn clichés, standard-issue stereotypes, and some off-putting narration, and it deflates what could have been a nice sci-fi soufflé. On the plus side, there are some fine visual effects, decent acting, and a (too limited) presence of Rachel Griffiths, as the stone-cold face of Exor, the latest in a string of evil corporations that have (dis)graced cinema’s realm.
The script by Abbess (from a story he concocted with Brian Cachia) is unsettlingly disjointed, broken down into seven uneven chapters that set up various characters along parallel timelines. Rather than intercut the stories and build momentum, the film often rewinds the clock when a new episode title (“The State of Indiana,” “Manifest Destiny,” “The Long Road,” etc.) flashes across the screen. Just because you have a limited budget doesn’t mean you have to frame a film in such an incoherent manner.
These feeble restarts, from the perspective of either of the two adult male protagonists, allow for filling in the backstories of Lt. Kane Sommervile (Daniel MacPherson), a disgraced war hero turned infrastructure officer then turned renegade warrior, who teams up with Sy Lombrok (Kellan Lutz), an escapee from one of the corporation’s soul-robbing, grime-filled prisons. These jails and numerous Exor-operated mines use cheap labor to provide Earth-bound minerals, enriching General Elana Lynex (Griffiths), an ice queen who rules from a clean perch in a spaceship hovering above the planet. Historians might compare this convict labor operation to the 162,000 criminals that were sent to Australia by the British in the 18th and 19th centuries to settle the continent.
There’s a nice, spunky performance by Teagan Croft as Indi, the 11-year-old daughter of Kane, a dad hunk with a bad shoulder and a busted marriage (mom’s back home, on Earth). The initial meet and greet that opens the film plays like a bring-your-daughter-to-work outing, each taking target practice at road signs. Later, when the planet’s entire population is brought into jeopardy by corporate malfeasance, the girl becomes the common cause for both men, an unlikely alliance on a rescue mission.
As with any nasty, greedy corporation, a secret agenda goes madly awry and the cover up is at the expense of the planet’s have nots. The haves also are targeted. As if the lives of the angry prisoners weren’t beaten down enough at the iron hands of sadistic Warden Mourdain (Temeura Morrison), the caged inhabitants at the Ovir Ultramax Prison are also guinea pigs in an ugly genetic experiment. Pushed to their limits, a riot and escape plan is hatched by the convicts. General Lynex uses fake facts to hide the out-of-control situation from her superiors, then starts a countdown clock for Protocol 84, a worldwide doomsday scenario that pushes the rag tag rescue squad of Sy, Kane, and a pair of outlaw step-siblings to do noble and reckless things. A virus is afoot; genocide awaits.
Issues with the film’s continuity issues expose its flaws. The lumbering monsters that waltz about the planet’s countryside infect the humans with a gene-altering fluid that transforms them, all too quickly, into more lumbering monsters. It’s hard to believe these creatures are as quick and cunning as portrayed.
The Osiris Child plays as a derivative space western, with escalating excursions into gunfights that are just video game shoot-em-ups. Despite feeling this movie should work, it doesn’t. It’s a serviceable diversion (which explains a DIRECTV premiere and limited theatrical run day-and-dating with its availability on video on demand), but not a franchise builder.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He served as an executive producer on the 2015 horror film German Angst, Penny Lane’s award-winning documentary Nuts!, and the forthcoming supernatural thriller Ayla. He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2017 by Centipede Press).