An interstellar Jekyll and Hyde, Arrowhead tells a tale of survival set amongst the distant stars. Kye is a prisoner of war caught between two armies, neither of whose ideology he believes in. When offered an opportunity for freedom, Kye sets out on one last rescue mission only to become stranded when his ship crash lands. Kye soon realises that the deadliest creature on the desert moon is himself.
Shot on a micro-budget in just 22 days in a remote corner of the Australian outback Arrowhead actually delivers a sincerely impressive production quality.
The film’s plot is built around several classic science fiction elements; namely galactic civil war, mysterious Alien dangers and strange anomalies in time & space. Taking those potentially overly familiar themes Arrowhead tires to actually focus on a more personal and metaphysical journey for one character dealing with the transformative effect of isolation. For ardent science fiction fans, it’s reminiscent of cult Dennis Quaid favourite Enemy Mine or more recently Duncan Jones critically praised Moon.
Leading the human cast Dan Mor manages to keep mercenary castaway Kye interesting and likable. With large portions of the film focused on his isolated existence and metaphysical anxieties the film could easily have struggled with a less emotive pair of eyes staring back at audiences.
Arrowhead also does a surprisingly good job of creating an expansive alien landscape, by re-imagining the barren Australian wilderness as a hostile and strange desert Moon. The simple addition of a couple of giant looming planets to the naturally vast skyline is a well-executed VFX trick that instantly gives the film a much needed sense of scale.
Likewise the film delivers a very convincing robotic sidekick for marooned hero Kye, thanks to a simple combination of practical effects and brief CGI additions. Mostly embodied on screen just by a glowing red light and a flickering computer monitor, REEF is superbly brought to life by the vocal charms of Australian comedy veteran Shaun Micallef. It’s a character clearly crafted in the classic tradition of 2001’s infamous spaceship computer HAL. REEF’s detached and pleasantly placid tone of voice is ominous and amiable by equal measure. In many ways REEF serves as an emotional center for the film, alongside being a convenient tool for providing useful explanations of key plot points.
There are a few moments where weaker VFX shots and a sparsely populated cast might be an unwelcome reminder for audiences of the time and budget restraints the film was admittedly made under. But in the context of low budget science fiction it’s fair to say countless other films have definitely achieved much less having squandered far more time and money.
Arrowhead has flashes of true class, showcasing some inventive practical effects and paying homage to great genre classics, though ultimately the film’s plot struggles to maintain focus particular in its later stages. Mutant monsters, galactic conspiracies and time travel are a lot for audiences to contend with simultaneously. So as the film makes its way through a series of plot twists and reveals it’s not entirely clear what the big picture is really supposed to mean.
It’s hard to entirely avoid the sense that the unanswered questions the films leaves and the meager human cast are both a result of budgetary constraints rather than conscious storytelling choices.
The Ugly Truth
Arrowhead is a proud piece of inventive small scale science fiction the makes the very most of a modest budget and some big ideas. Those mistakenly expecting blockbuster action should be aware this isn’t Starship Troopers or Avatar, but genre fans will enjoy a watchable film that mixes occasional action with metaphysical musings.
Review by Russell Nelson