You can’t fault a film like Somnus for trying. It has lofty ambitions for a project that is on a limited budget. Advances in the availability of effects work to smaller scale films mean that films such as this one can have a rather impressive look. The golden rule for a successful movie is to have the substance to match the visuals.

A commercial spaceship is on its last mission. On board is a Captain (Marcus McMahon) who spends more time in augmented sleep than awake. He is grieving for a lost love and only fins solace in the illusions created by his sleep device. Alongside is a young, ambitious co-pilot and an old grizzled engineer. Effectively running the ship is Meyrl, the ship’s computer. An unexplained accident forces the ship to divert from its course home and head for the deserted asteroid station called Somnus. What the crew find there changes everything for them.

For a film that only had an eighty minute run time it seemed to drag a bit. It was chock full of ideas and some great invention. The problem was that a lot of it failed to translate on to the screen. It had a very nice look to it. The spaceship looked suitably decrepit with its cramped spaces and lived in feel to it. It conveyed a feeling of sadness to it which affected the tone of the film.

It was obvious that Somnus took its inspiration from some of the more esoteric films. There are references to 2001, Silent Running and The Tree Of Life sprinkled throughout. Some are used well but others are just a bit to abstract to work. It starts with a sequence set in the Nineteen fifties which is meant to set up the rest of the film. It fails to do so because it doesn’t give the audience enough information that they can use later on to piece the story together. It’s only about twenty five minutes in do you get the first idea of what is going on as there is a brief animated section that spells out the back story and gives an indication as to why the ship is behaving abnormally.

The use of a computer system with a dry, unemotional voice is just too on the nose. It immediately references HAL and draws unfavourable comparisons with the Stanley Kubrick classic. To do this and not to have the pay off when we finally see Meryl is a waste. There is not tension during the crew’s interactions with the computer and this leads to a disengagement from the story.

The actors have very little to work with. There is nothing for them to develop their characters against. The captain is supposed to be grief stricken. We see the object of his desire but never get even a hint as to what happened. He never shows any great emotion. It’s all on the one level. The engineer role is similar. He is world-weary and tired. Why that is the case is, once again, never expanded. Without these little things the film fails to spark any great deal of interest.


John McArthur
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