VOD film review: Native
Graves and Kendrick7.5
Matthew Turner | On 25, Feb 2018
Director: Daniel Fitzsimmons
Cast: Rupert Graves, Ellie Kendrick, Leanne Best, Joe Macaulay, Pollyanna McIntosh, Daniel Brocklebank
Watch Native online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Sky Store / Google Play
The debut feature from Liverpool-born director / co-writer Daniel Fitzsimmons, this intriguingly strange sci-fi drama begins on a distant planet, where humanoid astronauts Cane (Rupert Graves) and Eva (Ellie Kendrick) are sent on a mission to a distant planet, with the goal of releasing a virus that will wipe out its inhabitants in readiness for colonisation. The pair have been chosen for their psychic connections to their siblings, which will enable them to stay in contact with their home planet – and a community known as The Hive – even across the vast distances of space.
However, when Cane’s sister dies in childbirth, his psychic connection to The Hive is severed and he becomes increasingly obsessed with a piece of music (a Beethoven symphony) being transmitted from their destination planet. As Cane drifts into what seems like space madness, it falls to Eva to keep the mission on track.
Fitzsimmons’ script – co-written with Neil Atkinson – is full of provocative, interesting ideas. Because of the detached way the characters communicate, it takes a while to adjust to the film’s rhythms and it’s necessary to pay close attention, but the rewards for doing so are significant. The use of language is particularly impressive, because the strangeness of The Hive is only gradually revealed through what the characters say and how they react, particularly when Cane informs Eva about his sister’s pregnancy (“How many?” “Four”).
At heart, this is a story about empathy (and the lack of it) and the ways in which the film approaches that central theme are fascinating, beginning with an early, traumatic moment where Cane effectively experiences his sister’s miscarriage and death – tellingly, Fitzsimmons never cuts back to a shot of his sister, Awan (Leanne Best), on the home planet, instead focusing on Cane, writhing in agony, followed by his matter-of-fact disclosure to Eva afterwards.
The performances are terrific, with both Graves and Kendrick striking the perfect note throughout – it would have been easy to over-indulge Cane’s space madness, for example, but Graves under-plays to impressive effect. Kendrick is compelling in her panicked bewilderment, sensing that Cane might represent some sort of danger, but unable to understand what it might be. Their interactions are beautifully judged, with each one telling us more about The Hive itself, such as when Cane offers Eva a gift of something he’s created and she has no idea how to respond (“I don’t need it”), the look in her eyes struggling to process what’s happening.
The film makes a real virtue of its ultra-low budget, with the majority of the action taking place on the interiors of the Hive spaceship. Much credit is due to production designer Jon Revell, because the sets are pleasingly reminiscent of classic 70s TV sci-fi, so much so that you half expect Tom Baker to come running down one of the corridors.
Essentially a two-hander, this is a compelling and provocative sci-fi drama that marks the arrival of an intriguing new British talent. It will be fascinating to see what Fitzsimmons does next.