Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 84 minutes
Release Date: July 26, 2013
Directed by: Roger Christian
Stars: 2 out of 5
Col. Gerard Brauchman (Christian Slater) is in command of the Ark, a modest space station on the moon that allows its four-person crew to conduct scientific research. The crew, which also includes Dr. Lance Krauss (Brendan Fehr), Ava Cameron (Amy Matysio), and Bruce Johns (Michael Therriault), seems to get along well despite the fact Brauchman is a grump. Things seem to be going swimmingly for the tight-knit crew until disaster strikes.
That disaster comes in the form of an unexpected meteor shower, which causes lots of damages to the Ark. It manages to incinerate certain equipment, including the space suits the crew needs to venture outside of the space station. Several airlocks are also damaged, which causes precious oxygen supplies to start dwindling. Brauchman stays cool under pressure and orders each person to do a specific job to save the space station, including sending Ava to seal the airlocks. While she’s completing this essential task, she’s infected by spores from one of the meteors. She quickly develops pregnancy symptoms as an alien fetus rapidly grows inside her.
After Ava gives birth, the baby alien slinks away to another part of the Ark. The tiny crew is already spread thin with repairs to the station, so they don’t have enough resources to capture and study the alien. This fact helps seal the fate of all four people because the alien isn’t a friendly one. It begins to stalk the crew, who are already tired, hungry, and overworked. When their oxygen supply begins to dwindle, they start hallucinating and can’t figure out what’s real and what’s all in their heads. It’s about this time that Johns is assaulted by the alien, who turns mimics a human by inhabiting Johns’ body. Its plan is to pass for human and escape the space station to travel to earth, where it can then infect millions of humans and take over the planet if the remaining crewmembers don’t stop it.
“Stranded” (watch trailer) had an estimated budget of around $2 million dollars, which is a mere pittance in comparison to the cost of today’s high-budget movies set in space. The way director Roger Christian managed to make the movie seem realistic with such a miniscule budget was by creating a single research station set on a soundstage that serves as the setting for the majority of the film rather than building a multitude of different sets at great expense. In some films, this might have resulted in monotonous cinematography that would bore the audience, but not in “Stranded.” In fact, the solo main set actually adds to the considerable mood of the film, giving it an almost claustrophobic feel. As the characters feel increasingly trapped by the alien force on board, the setting feels smaller and smaller, which helps ratchet up the tension and keep the film’s premise exciting. It’s a mild stroke of genius that helps stretch the budget without spreading it too thin.
Christian also has a few other tricks as his disposal to make the budget work, including lighting and makeup. The lighting is dark and creates lots of shadows in the corners of the space station, which only helps to ramp up the growing paranoia of the crew. He also seemed to invest a sizeable part of the budget to makeup effects because the blood and gore scenes are fantastic. There’s quite a bit of gore in the film as the alien creature begins its attack on the four poor souls unfortunate enough to be in its path. One sequence where the flesh and bones of one crew member’s neck is exposed is arguably the best in the film and shows that with a little ingenuity, budget effects can look just as good and polished as that of a big budget film.
Slater is a former teen heartthrob who graced the cover of many magazines, although those days are behind him. Still, someone who used to be just as well-known for his looks as his acting might be vain enough to want to look good at all times. In “Stranded,” Slater eschews all traces of vanity to create a character who starts off as a competent Colonel and slowly descends into possible madness. Though the actor looks handsome and much younger than his 43 years at the beginning of the film, the increasingly hostile alien threat and possible psychosis has him looking harried in no time. Slater doesn’t seem to care about being picture perfect here, which helps make his performance the most memorable of the film.