Thriller and suspense films are not necessarily part of the horror genre. And yet, it’s hard to make a science fiction film set in the emptiness of outer space not have it turn into horror. There’s something about the loneliness and the silence of space that amp the experience. Your characters are immediately vulnerable to a million little details that could go wrong and kill you. You know you’re in for some suspenseful moments.
We’re back on science fiction territory with Danny Boyle. This time, we’re going to go all the way back to 2007 and a little film that often passes under the radar. Sunshine is a science fiction thriller about the crew of the Icarus II tasked with the outrageous task of reigniting the sun. They’re actually the second team to try this. The team of the Icarus I failed and were never heard from again.
Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada) is the ship’s captain. Harvey (Troy Garity) is the communications officer. Searle (Cliff Curtis) is the doctor and psychologist who is obsessed with watching the sun. Physicist Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy) faces a lot of the brunt taking the hard scientific decisions. Along for the ride are ship engineer Mace (Chris Evans), pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne) and biologist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) who tends the ship’s living garden which also produces the oxygen for the trip.
The movie does contain a few of the usual sci-fi tropes. Mace, who is the ship’s asshole, also gets away with the best line when second-in-command Harvey objects to separating. Mace tells him, “You’re probably right. We might get picked off one at a time by aliens.” That line tells us all not to expect what we were already expecting.
The movie is at its best when it introduces a conflict where a choice has to be made between the ethical and the safe choice. One of them seems more practical than the other, but often enough what we consider practically convenient is actually rooted in a lot of unfounded variables. It’s still interesting to watch. Danger often comes as a life risk for someone in the crew, who must then decide if it’s worth risking their lives to save the others.
The movie does have a few years since it has been out, but the special effects do still look the part, thanks to the use of miniatures. The performances are believable, although during the second half a new character upsets the balance. The movie does make a turn fully into the horror genre although it tries to keep itself scientifically sound. Unfortunately, having one character be the “evil one” in the third act does put us in horror territory but the movie does lose some steam in the process. By then we care about the characters too much of course.
Recommended to science fiction moviegoers and outer space aficionados with reservations. As usual, expect the crew to get considerably smaller. The conflicts are initially inventive and sound until we switch gears in the third act to something closely resembling a monster film. Still, the film overall has a sound plot and decent performances. There’s a few character arcs into the storyline but for the most part it’s all about science and humanity trying to save the day.
That will do for now.