The best science fiction floats as many questions as it answers, making us ponder anew the nature of consciousness or our footprint on the planet or the longevity of hipster beards among the start-up execs of the future, like Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina. But raising lots of questions is only really satisfying when those questions are remotely explicable, and when a film bothers to stake out a position on at least some of them — whereas throwing paint at the wall and hoping it sticks seems to have been the approach of Shane Abbess and his co-screenwriter (and composer) Brian Cachia on Infini, a slickly made, utterly incomprehensible potboiler about a rescue mission in space that goes awry when the rescue team is beset by a mysterious contagion.
In the future, “slipstreaming” between planets — teleporting — is both lucrative and controversial for its high number of fatalities as well as for the danger of “data corruption” (the particles of a human being becoming contaminated by something else). Desperate to make a better life for his wife and unborn child, Whit Carmichael (Daniel MacPherson) is starting his first day on the job when everything goes to hell. A team infected with bloodlust slipstreams back to HQ, and Whit only just escapes by jumping to Infini, the off-world mining station where the outbreak originated. Infini is infamous as the site of the worst space disaster ever, in which 1,600 people were killed by the volatile substance they were there to mine.
A genre retread in search of a plot.
Cut to the East Coast command center, where another team is mobilizing to rescue Witt and discover the source of the airborne contagion. They’re also tasked with taking out a deranged fellow who’s threatening Earth with a payload of indigenous space matter capable of nuking our planet. If this all seems like a lot to take in, it is, and some baffling structural choices add to the confusion.
Take the very first scene, in which military types in combat gear are interrogated in some sort of holding area amid much shouting and crosscutting. As it turns out, this is a flash forward showing the team being tested for data corruption after a mission. But as an opening meant to ratchet up the tension, it’s merely loud: a cacophony of raised voices devoid of meaning or context. This is a radical approach to storytelling: it’s rare to see a film, much less a genre film, in which clarity is so willfully — brazenly — withheld.
Once the team arrives on the abandoned planet, things go from bad to worse. The gunmetal gloss of the station sharply captured by d.p. Carl Robertson is soon flecked with blood. From there Infini settles into being a defiant knock-off of every space station chiller ever made, from Alien on. But unlike that film, the Big Bad here is only an abstraction. At one point Whit finds himself in a lab where he discovers that “primordial ooze” is the source of the malady bedeviling his colleagues. As an antagonist, ooze – primordial or otherwise – is a difficult property to enliven, so the film becomes a war of attrition between Whit and his rescuers. Said rescuers are, for the most part, cursorily sketched and indistinguishable. Luke Hemsworth, the oldest and least pretty of the Hemsworth boys, pops up in a thankless role as a grunt who goes berserk. Unfortunately, that describes everybody else onscreen, too. It’s hard keeping track of who’s who, a fact not helped by the identical helmets everybody’s wearing as they scour the derelict outpost.
Only MacPherson as Whit and Luke Ford (Animal Kingdom) as a medic skeptical of him register strongly. MacPherson is best known down under for a stint on soap perennial Neighbours, and for hosting the local Dancing With the Stars, but he makes for a quietly dignified lead. He’s at his best when up against the baby-faced Ford, whose snide jabs give the film a much-needed shot of informality. Whenever they’re together a valve opens, allowing some oxygen to dilute all the oppressive portentousness.
Just what is being portended is a question the film itself doesn’t seem willing to answer, and Abbess pulls a late double bluff that puts everything we’ve seen up for conjecture. Has Whit been colonized by an alien parasite? Is he the “alpha” on whom the biohazard will piggyback to earth? Has the team been through hell or was Whit only imagining it? On Infini, anything’s possible.
Production companies: Storm Vision Entertainment, Storm Alley Entertainment, Eclectik Vision
Cast: Daniel MacPherson, Luke Hemsworth, Grace Huang, Bren Foster, Luke Ford, Dwaine Stevenson, Louisa Mignone, Tess Haubrich, Harry Pavlidis, Kevin Copeland, Matt Minto
Director: Shane Abbess
Writer: Shane Abbess, Brian Cachia
Producers: Sidonie Abbene, Shane Abbess, Matthew Graham, Brett Thornquest
Executive producers: Brian Cachia, Steven Matusko
Director of photography: Carl Robertson
Editor: Adrian Rostirolla
Production designer: George Liddle
Art director: Peter ‘Babylon’ Owens
Set decorator: Kitty Taube
Costume designer: Shareen Beringer
Composer: Brian Cachia
Rated R, 110 minutes