Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"It doesn't so much feel old-fashioned as it does out of time."

Infini wears its influences on its sleeve, even on its necks, with the APEX device that makes it possible for its protagonists to be thrown across the galaxy as streams of data nestled just above between the shoulderblades. There's a dash of this, a touch of that, and while some names on the list of influences would be outright spoilers there's no doubting that Alien is top of the list.

From the font, even, of the title, to a pair of words repeated in a notebook; from green-phosphor displays explained away as a deliberately retrograde technological compensation for a harsh environment, for an old station, for, let us be clear, a justification for an aesthetic choice.

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They abound, from the overwhelming contrast between the uniforms of teams: one coast, all action, bear on their shoulders a skull and crossed rifles; their opposites, Search & Rescue, have a much less paramilitary air. More cleverly, the teal and orange that appear to have become ubiquitous in genre (to the extent that one of the skirmishes in Age Of Ultron involves holograms of said shades) are provided not by colour correction or CGI but by in-scene practical effects - lighting rigs, heat-lamps, costumes, even bottles and flasks in laboratories. It's clever, knowing, a wink to genre expectations which even from the opening text Infini manages to play with.

There's a sufficiently large number of allusions that one starts to wonder if one is drawing parallels with other films through a kind of science fictional pareidolia, the man on the Moon is related to The Man Who Fell To Earth and all that. The corridors with their steam vents, the flooded area of a distant space station, even a man with close-cropped platinum hair having an angry conversation about life, all are suggestive of other work and enough of the borrowing is playful that it can be forgiven.

Exercises in genre emulation can be difficult to discuss without falling into etymological, even epistemological rabbit-holes - it's very easy to get caught up in the trappings while missing the intent, and for every dutch angle or focus artifact or twist ending brought about by the actions of a character played by Kevin Spacey, there's a dog that doesn't die or a giant mechanical spider. If you're careful, and Infini is, you can play by two sets of rules - internally consistent weight of homage means that certain audiences will be creating their own expectations, setting their own traps to fall into. From the very beginning this film is laying groundwork, the APEX device and the risks of data degradation, the multinational cast and existence of intragalactic teleportation mean that while there are references to 'East Coast' and 'West Coast' there's not enough geography to put them on oceans. While the opening text does suggest that 95% of Earth's population are below the poverty line we don't see any signs (or even allusions) to the hyper-wealth that must have concentrated to push median income that high, but as justification for people working difficult jobs and not having too much tech gadgetry in the living quarters we see to look immediately dated - in the same way that terrestrial horror in the present day continually finds itself having to eliminate mobile phone signal, visions of futurity with dates attached can be left behind by now current events - it's 2015 and we've not even started construction on the Tannhauser Gate.

Were it to exist, it might resemble the APEX device, which flings first Whit Carmichael (Daniel McPherson) to a far (dangerous) corner of the galaxy, and then sends a rescue team after him minutes later. Minutes on Earth - the relativistic consequences to wiggling a ride on a Jacob's Ladder to the stars mean that it's hours, weeks, away - producing a tension that scales up and down from saving one's skin to protecting the world to being home in time for dinner on a first day at work.

The ensemble cast are good, sketches of character, allusions to the machinations of a back-office bureacracy, moments that manage to convey a variety of despair - these are competent performances of competent performers. Some of that's clever casting - it's not hard to beleive Rex Manning's competence as a military operator when he's played by a former Australian Army physical training instructor (Dwaine Stephenson). Grace Huang's role as the team's medic is also worth singling out, while the freak-out that sends them to her for help is completely out-weighted by the situation they find her in. McPherson has an even more difficult act. The chaos of the situation at the start of the film means that he begins as "final girl" and things go downhill for him from there.

George Liddle's production design deserves mention, it's one thing to create a space that looks run down but it's another to create a series that look like they were properly used before they became abandoned - it's the difference between a kitchen where the tea-bags are near the kettle and one where nobody thought about where to put the bin. At that technical level Infini is strongest, but that genre emulation is not without a price.

There's a very real risk that by taking a series of elements with which audiences are familiar and subtly rearranging them, the particular strengths of the combination will be lost in noise. Infini borrows habits from other films - Ripley and the others are aware of a protocol that's broken, but in the same way that Death Star gunners need a better health and safety representative the crews of Infini are not alone in needing better containment protocols. They're there, undoubtedly, but even nuclear options usually have covers on the switch. That's potentially a nit-pick too far, but it's annoying in a film that's trying to be (and usually succeeding at being) smart. It's not quite "what is most required for good to triumph is evil to lack fire discipline" but it's close. It's potentially churlish to talk about a 'genre ghetto' when Marvel are putting science-fictional ideas on every screen in every multiplex in every month of every year, but when Nolan or Cuaron direct films set almost entirely in space they get a different set of criticisms than movies where Guy Pearce has to rescue the president's daughter from an orbital prison or Sean Connery visits a Jovian moon. This is also not as cynical as The Black Hole or Battle Beyond The Stars but it is pitched squarely at a particular audience.

Shane Abbess writes, directs, harnesses a clear love of genre to create a film that it's very easy, even deliberately so, to write misleading elevator pitches for - it's Alien on Solaris, it's Dark Star meets Stargate, it's 28 Days Later after The Day The Earth Stood Still, and so on and so on - all of which do it an unkindness, because it's a solid slice of space horror and it's also savvy enough to know you know that. There's not anything directly wrong with Infini, indeed, it does an excellent job of winding a variety of strands together to produce an engaging and active tapestry, but while it's far from threadbare it doesn't so much feel old-fashioned as it does out of time. It's perhaps unfair to judge a film so heavily in the context of others, but the door to that's opened from the moment that white writing appears on a black screen. In contrast to another revival, amongst many other things Mad Max: Fury Road is something that resembles its Eighties genre roots and comes out the same but different; ultimately Infini feels like something that's different but the same.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2015
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A futuristic search and rescue team try to rescue a soldier from an off-world mining facility.
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Director: Shane Abbess

Writer: Shane Abbess, Shane Abbess, Brian Cachia, Brian Cachia

Starring: Daniel MacPherson, Grace Huang, Luke Hemsworth, Bren Foster, Luke Ford, Dwaine Stevenson, Louisa Mignone, Tess Haubrich, Harry Pavlidis, Kevin Copeland, Andy Rodoreda, Richard Huggett, Paul Winchester, Brendan Clearkin, Matt Minto

Year: 2015

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: Australia


EIFF 2015

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