Director: Alex Taylor
Cast: Alexa Davies, Steven Elder, Harry Jarvis, Lucian Charles Collier
Watch Spaceship online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
British writer-director Alex Taylor made a splash with his award-winning short film Kids Might Fly in 2010, with subsequent shorts (including Release the Flying Monkeys) leading Screen International to name him a “Star of Tomorrow” in 2013. Partially expanded from a previous short, Spaceship marks Taylor’s feature debut, but while it’s visually stylish and features a superb soundtrack, it’s ultimately lacking in substance, making for a frustrating overall experience.
Fictional, though often employing a faux documentary style, complete with talking head interviews, the film presents a group of emo-slash-cyberpunk Surrey teens who chatter on endlessly about aliens and fantasy worlds, like Richard Linklater’s Slacker, minus the wit and intelligence. A plot, of sorts, emerges when Lucidia (Raised by Wolves’ Alexa Davies) disappears, prompting her spaced-out friends – including sometime boyfriend Luke (Lucian Charles Collier) – to speculate that she’s been abducted by aliens.
When he learns that his daughter is missing, Lucidia’s Finnish archaeologist father, Gabriel (Antti Reini), mounts his own personal search, concerned that she may be looking to emulate her mother’s suicide, especially since she was recently in trouble at school for standing on the roof while wearing a cape. However, his quest takes a turn for the bizarre, when he meets Tegan (Lara Peake), a young woman who bears a striking resemblance to his late wife.
Taylor has an eye for casting interesting-looking actors, with blue-haired Tallulah Rose Haddon (as BDSM fan Alice, who likes to put her boyfriend on a lead and take him for walks) a particular stand-out, thanks to her peculiar brand of weird intensity. Similarly, Peake has a nice line in neon eye-shadow, while Davies finds some inventive ways of expressing stroppy teen aggression, notably by boiling her dad’s Sony Walkman.
It’s clear that Harmony Korine (or, more specifically, Gummo) is a huge influence for Taylor, but where Korine found an odd poetry in Gummo’s collection of outcasts and weirdos, Taylor can only muster incoherent wittering – it comes as no surprise to learn that the cast improvised much of their dialogue, which accounts for why much of it is so irritating. Worse, the overall effect is that everyone appears to speak the same in the same pretentious, overly flowery manner, meaning that the characters blur into one, which is ironic, considering the thematic focus on forging a unique identity.
Similarly, the lack of wit quickly becomes a problem, because for all the endless talking, nobody has anything interesting or funny to say. This is particularly frustrating because Taylor’s excellent shorts (also shot faux-doc style and all available to stream for free on Vimeo) show an aptitude for presenting instantly likeable, interesting characters, and it’s baffling that he appears to have chosen a different approach here.
There is some compensation in Taylor’s eye-popping visuals (providing you like neon and glow-in-the-dark make-up) and there’s a super-cool electronica-heavy soundtrack to boot, but Spaceship is ultimately a frustrating case of style over substance.