Another Earth

Another Earth ★★★★

There seems to have been a run of low budget sci-fi and apocalyptic doom laden films that have popped up in the last few years or so to largely positive reactions. Another Earth is a bit like the black sheep of the family, though.

That's because it isn't really a sci-fi film. Brit Marling, a gifted young woman who is driving home, the worse for wear, after a party celebrating her acceptance into the a high profile technical college, becomes distracted during her journey by an announcement on the radio that a second Earth has been discovered and is now visible to the planet. While looking for it in the sky she ploughs into an oncoming car killing a child and his mother. She then spends several years in jail and upon release applies to be on the first shuttle that will visit 'Earth 2' and also intends to find and apologise to the sole survivor of her car smash, the husband and father of the two victims.

I went into Another Earth not knowing a great deal about it beyond its very obvious hook and it really did surprise me that it ended up more being a drama about living with grief and coping with an error in judgement that has more or less destroyed your life. I was concerned from the outset that it would be overwhelmingly 'indie' in its story, especially when Marling befriends a blind man at the school she cleans for her living, but it really is quite impressive in how it reigns itself in and steers clear of the hysterical and melodramatic.

But there is so much that is impressive about it. I've seen it criticised for not exploring the science of Earth 2 more - where it appeared from, its effect on gravitational pull and so on, but I think some sci-fi films bog themselves down in trying to explain everything. That was part of the problem with Primer, for me. There were potentially other things in that film that were more interesting and worthy of exploration than how they actually managed to time travel. But they don't always have to do that.

This is a pared-down film that understands what it actually is, and any semblance of science fiction in it is merely a backdrop for the development of the relationship between Marling and the excellent William Mapother. It covers what it needs to and when it does cover any developments relating to Earth 2, they are beautifully timed and even chilling - especially a scene covered on the TV relating to the first contact with the planet.

I think, at times, the central relationship plays out fairly predictably but it is an enjoyable progression that does not feel rushed inside a relatively brief running time. Plus there is also the obligatory "I'm so upset I'm going to be sick!" scene. This is all balanced out by the fact that her family are not played out as the interfering types that I was expecting, and there is also an ending that is bound to infuriate some but I found it a very impressive and open-ended vision that matches Take Shelter for boldness and interpretation.

Marling is absolutely marvellous in the lead role. A jobbing actress who tired of the roles she was being offered, she went out and decided to pen her own scripts (she co-wrote this with director Mike Cahill, debuting as a feature director here) and wrote herself some decent roles. She has done a tremendous job on two fronts here and she is riveting throughout. Mapother, best known from Lost, is also very good indeed and both roles are underplayed exactly as they need to be.

It's far from faultless but there is talent to spare here and Another Earth is brimming with sparkling ideas behind a very interesting relationship drama. A lovely surprise.

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