It’s rare for a film to completely throw you for a loop, becoming an experience beyond anything you expected. I must admit I was skeptical about Assassinaut. Production images of a group of children in colorful jumpsuits with a retro space race flare had me expecting something very indie, charmingly retro, cute and twee. Not really my preferred brand of SciFi, but I shouldn’t have judged a film by its proverbial cover. Assassinaut is a shockingly gory, dark, and intriguing work of true horror SciFi. Often baffling but always absorbing, the film celebrated its U.S. Premiere at Boston Underground Film Fest.
Assassinaut takes place in an unspecified future in which earth has been ravaged by a nuclear attack to squash an alien invasion. Years later, the planet-wide government has picked a group of children to travel to space. The plan is a thinly disguised PR stunt to encourage the possibility that humanity could resettle in space. The kids will meet the president of earth onboard the presidential space station, which orbits a distant, Earth-like planet. The hope is that the planet could be the new home of humanity and that a visit from the first group of child astronauts could warm public perception toward the possibility.
One of those children is Sarah (Shannon Hutchinson), a teenager with genuine optimism and hope about the possibility that science can save the world. Her father is an ex-astronaut, and her mother is terminally ill and losing her mind. Sarah is a young girl with a lot of pain, and she sees her role as a space pioneer as a pathway to hope. Once Sarah and her team of fellow young explorers reach the space station, things go violently awry. Suddenly the group is forced to survive on the surface of an alien planet, struggling to locate the wounded president and save her life.
Assassinaut is cinematic proof of the power of a great script and excellent acting. The film has huge SciFi ambitions that reach way beyond its shoestring budget. But the script is so compelling and sincere, it sells the scale of a world that is so much more vast than what we see on-screen. The story, written by director Drew Bolduc, is rich in complex characters and a bleak vision of the future. It’s also dripping with mystery and complex, intriguing lore.
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Assassinaut’s serious tone contrasts beautifully with its quirky, lo-fi aesthetic. The production design mixes colorful, charmingly retro visuals with tech and locations based in our real-world military. The result is as if Alien were directed by Wes Anderson. It’s got that worn out, lived in space feel, with a splash of ironic nods to the B-movies of the 1950s. You might expect this vibe would suit a winking comedy more than a straight-faced drama. But Assassinaut is here to upend your expectations.
“It’s got that worn out, lived in space feel, with a splash of ironic nods to the B-movies of the 1950s[…] Assassinaut is here to upend your expectations.”
It’s the film’s cast that is its secret weapon, particularly the group of young actors at its center. All of them are truly excellent, especially Shannon Hutchinson as Sarah. The script gives her a startlingly complex character that she handles spectacularly. Quite simply, the film couldn’t have worked without an incredible performance at its center, and Hutchinson delivers.
Yael Haskal is charmingly neurotic and naive as tech nerd Brooke, and Jonathan Newport brings the snark as Tom, the youngest and most jaded of the space kids. Jasmina Parent is intriguing and ultimately moving as the mysterious Charlie, though I wish the story gave her more development.
Vito Trigo gives an arresting performance as The Commander. He is the first adult survivor encountered by the children after the space station disaster sends escape pods crashing to the planet below. He reluctantly guides them for a time, teaching them survival skills — until a dark force takes hold. The Commander has a tragic backstory tied into the history of Assassinaut‘s bleak universe. Some of this is revealed in flashback, but the full picture is incomplete. Yet Trigo’s performance says more about the darkness of this world’s past than exposition ever could.
Assassinaut is dialogue and character heavy, with most of its story shot in broad daylight. But it remains very much a work of dark horror The gore and body horror is truly stomach turning and shockingly creative. And don’t expect the film to go easy on its brutality just because it’s got kids at the center. Assassinaut imagines a dark future where gruesome fates await anyone who dares to challenge it, and it doesn’t discriminate by age.
If Assassinaut has a central flaw, it’s that it left me wanting more. The film is a quick 75 minutes, but its lore and the rich story could’ve expanded far beyond that. The ending is somewhat baffling, and it left me with far more questions than answers. It’s certainly a puzzle that could be pieced together with a lot of thought and review. But the strength of the film’s characters made me crave more closure than the film ultimately offered.
Despite this frustrating shortcoming, Assassinaut remains a must-see for fans of scrappy indie horror. It’s somehow both charming and twisted, with an emotional core so strong it will knock you off your feet. If anything, it’s a testament to the power of story and performance to sell a film, with plentiful gore thrown in for good measure. Assassinaut is a low-budget SciFi horror treat that surprises in every way.
Assassinaut celebrated its U.S. Premiere at the Boston Underground Film Festival.