Sitges Review: 'The Osiris Child' is Ultra Ambitious Sci-Fi Storytelling
Where did this film come from?! I finally caught up with a sci-fi feature called The Osiris Child, originally titled Science Fiction Volume One: The Osiris Child in full. This film is way, way, way better than it should be, and left me totally blown away. It's not perfect by any means, but it is extremely impressive storytelling, with some cool ideas I have never seen before in any film. I can't speak for others who don't like it, but I can say this is exactly the kind of sci-fi I love. It's remarkably ambitious storytelling on a galactic scale, created on a minimal budget, utilizing some sleek filmmaking tricks that actually make this successful. The world building (or rather, universe building) in this rivals Luc Besson's Valerian, and in all honesty, upon first viewing I actually like this more than Valerian. I really, really enjoyed it - but I do not think everyone will.
The Osiris Child is set in the distant future during a time of interplanetary colonization that spans across numerous galaxies. It takes place mostly on another planet that looks very much like Earth (not so much like Pandora), though that didn't bother me. The story follows a conflicted Lieutenant for the colonization corporation who defects and goes down to the planet to save his daughter before they wipe it out - she is the "Osiris Child". The story has some more things going on, with various threads that feel connected to a much, much bigger story outside of the scope of this particular film - almost as it if was adapted from a series of novels. (As far as I know, it's an original screenplay and not adapted from anything.) The narrative structure is based around various "chapters", basically vignettes, to tell the entire story in a minimal amount of time.
I really have no idea where this movie came from. It's an independent production (made in Australia) and I had never even heard about it until a few trailers appeared online earlier this year. Apparently it premiered at Fantastic Fest in 2016, but didn't make much of an impact. It has taken over a year for it to show up at other festivals and finally get some sort of very limited release in theaters this fall, though I'm sure no one is going to see it. Many critics seem to hate it, and I think I know why, but that's a whole other discussion. Part of the problem is that the narrative is structured in a way where much of the story seems missing. But to me, this felt like they really, truly cut out all of the fat (both for budgetary reasons and storytelling reasons). It's an ultra lean, mean, gritty sci-fi story that only shows action and the most important parts of a bigger story.
Daniel MacPherson stars as Lt. Kane Sommerville, a smart but stubborn corporate dude who realizes he hasn't spent enough time with his young daughter so he brings her to this distant planet so she can be closer. Teagan Croft plays Indiana "Indi" Sommerville, a tough-as-nails girl who wishes she could spend more time with her dad because he is so cool. When Kane defects and lands on the planet, which contains mostly prisons and gnarly bio-engineered creatures, he befriends the mysterious Sy Lombrok, played by Kellan Lutz. We learn both of their backstories in brief vignettes, and follow them both as they attempt to save Indi before it's too late. They really try to pack in quite a bit in this film, and it only works if you have an imagination that can fill in the gaps, since it isn't actually necessary to show us every last scene and beat.
There are many choices made in The Osiris Child which are obviously choices made with a limited budget, especially since the film has so many important visual effects (to pay for). However, the film impressed me the most because despite these choices, it still looks and sounds better than most other low-budget indie sci-fi. And it feels even more grand and exciting in its scope than most big-budget sci-fi. The visual effects are so damn good, I kept gawking in awe because I just couldn't believe how great it looks. Most indie sci-fi has noticeably mediocre visual effects work, but here the world feels complete and fully realized and believable. There's plenty of editing choices as well, including some jumbled action scenes, but this never bothered me. The way they made it all work anyway played right to my sensibilities and I enjoyed the hell out of this film.
I must address the narrative structure because this part of it is problem where most viewers will have a big problem. This film easily could've been 2.5 hours long if they would've filmed everything and let it all play out, but they smartly decided that was unnecessary. I admire how much director Shane Abbess decided to cut out many of the unnecessary moments that so many other films waste time on. For example, when Kane defects, he has to escape and steal a ship. He's told to do this, then suddenly the scene ends, we get a new chapter title card, and it cuts to a dogfight in progress. Normally we'd so the scenes where he steals the ship and narrowly escapes, but you know what, we don't need those. This structure works fine as long as you can follow the story and use your own mind to imagine the scenes that we don't see. There's so much going on, it would've been too bloated to show everything. These choices are a sign of a very intelligent sci-fi storyteller.
If you love full-on, ambitious science fiction action films (like I do), then The Osiris Child is worth your time to seek out and watch. It's fun and has some seriously impressive, visceraal action scenes. Yes, at times it feels like they're using cheap tricks and obvious cinematic techniques to make you believe more is going on, but you know what, that's acceptable. The film is so incredibly bold and surprisingly pulls off intergalactic world building on a grand scale, which makes it worthy of being appreciated for that accomplishment alone. Shane Abbess is a sci-fi filmmaker who definitely knows what he is doing here, whether that's directing the performances on set to make this future seem real, or shaping the film in the editing room, or designing visual effects that look magnificent. I just hope we'll actually see more from this "Science Fiction Volume".
Alex's Sitges 2017 Rating: 8 out of 10
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