Released on New Year’s Day, big budget sci-fi movie Passengers is an early entrant for creepiest film of 2017.
Not that you’d know from the trailer, which clearly pitches it as a date movie set amongst the stars.
The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as journalist Aurora and Chris Pratt as mechanical engineer Jim, two adventurous souls who have given up their lives on an overcrowded Earth to be put to sleep and travel light years towards a new colony planet, dubbed Homestead II.
Things don’t go according to plan and they find themselves awake 90 years too soon with the ship experiencing major malfunctions.
Most audiences going in off the back of the trailer would assume it’s a meet-cute movie that tilts into a lovers’ fight for survival together. As Aurora says, “You die, I die”.
Except that’s not really how it plays out.
Written by Jon Spaihts, who’s responsible for the epic-level stupidity of Prometheus, the screenplay, riddled with clichés, has been kicking around un-produced for a decade and for good reason.
That this film got off the ground in its current form is truly staggering.
The only clue in the trailer that something is really amiss between the lovebirds is one line where Jim alerts Aurora: “There’s something I have to tell you,” but it’s followed by a deliberate misdirection.
I’ll try to avoid spoiling what really soils this ugly, dumb movie, but you have been warned.
Look away now if you don’t want to know.
Firstly, Jim wakes up a good bit before Aurora and mostly deals with the horror of a life lived and died alone, in Pratt’s trademark goofball fashion.
Even when he contemplates ejecting himself out of an airlock, you never really buy his despair.
And this is when the film takes a bad turn into stalker territory.
Jim discovers Aurora sleeping in her tube and proceeds to drool over her supine form.
This escalates into obsessively watching her introductory video, with the suggestion the journey is also a great big dating scenario to repopulate the new planet.
Jim shares his increasingly grotesque fixation over drinks with Michael Sheen’s robot barman and it’s in his drunken deliberations that things get really dark.
What he does next is unforgivable, as is his duplicitous cover up, but perhaps a smarter, bleaker film could have played it as a brutal moral dilemma faced by a desperate man who must then face the consequences.
Instead, when Aurora is finally awake too, Passengers deals with the fallout and its inherent creepiness perfunctorily, lurching back into romance mode in an entirely inconceivable way.
Even if the set-up weren’t so icky, the chemistry between the pair is dead on arrival.
Adding insult to injury, Lawrence Fishburne shows up momentarily as a senior crew member also jolted out of his deep sleep who functions merely as a plot device to help the white folks open doors before being dispensed with swiftly.
The direction of Morten Tyldum (Imitation Game) is pedestrian and Spaihts’ script really packs in some stupendously dumb stuff.
For instance, the ship only has one medical bay for 5000 passengers and more than 200 crew, despite the latter being set to wake up five months before touch down and the passengers one month later.
Further compounding that idiocy, the facility only has one super-duper do-it-all operating table, an idea Spaihts clearly recycled for Prometheus before Passengers was resuscitated.
The sets are floodlit, the special effects lack weight and there’s plenty of dubious space physics, with it all adding up to one big gross mess.