Arrowhead [Alien Arrival] (2016)

Australia has a rather small film industry — and yet it has made quite a few memorable films.

Some of them are even quite good.

I suppose this is partly because it is a rather small industry and nearly every film it makes is effectively an Independent.  After all, making films by committee is one of those luxuries that only monster corporations with huge distribution networks and the money for major media campaigns can afford.

Anyone else would go broke.

As a result of major power struggle between rival Generals, Kye Cortland, a talented technician and the son of one of the leading supporters of General Hatch, has ended up in a horrible desert prison.  Hatch frees him and asks him to go on a mission which might save Kai’s father, who is to be executed in a few weeks time.  There’s a vitally important file aboard a spaceship, the Arrowhead, and he needs Kai to steal it.

Things go wrong, the ship crashes, and Kye ends up stranded on a strange moon in a badly damaged shuttle.  A few other people have survived in their landing pods, including a young woman named Tarren who quickly discovers that Kye was not part of the Arrowhead’s crew.

Unfortunately, there is something else on the moon with them — and there is a dark secret about the moon itself which will have a direct effect on Kye’s quest…

Arrowhead started life as a short film called “Arrowhead: Signal” which was created for the princely sum of 600 dollars.  Writer/Director Jesse O’Brian made it to promote a Kickstarter project which he hoped would raise enough money to make a feature film.  He only got half of what he needed, but convinced TV1, the owners of the Australian SF channel, to back them — and they believed in the project so much that they kept backing the film even after they lost their contract with a major broadcast company and didn’t know whether they would ever get the film on the air.

The film’s biggest surprise is just how tight their budget was — most of the sets and props were slapped together out of whatever they had, and when their full-size shuttle prop was damaged in shipping, it didn’t bother them because it was meant to look like it was wrecked.

The end result looks great, thanks in part to the incredible location footage shot in the bleak wilderness around Coober Pedy.  It has long been a favorite with filmmakers and it isn’t hard to see why, even if the old mines mean that there are deep holes the size of a pickup truck all over the area.

Now I need to note two moments when the film doesn’t work as well as it should: one, the nature of Kye’s mission, and his presence on board the Arrowhead as a stowaway aren’t explained very well, and I had to go back to try to figure out what I missed; and two, later on the sequences involving the strange orange pods which unexpected appear are also underexplained. It would have helped if they’d shown something laying them, or shown people bursting out of them.  But I suspect they just didn’t have the budget for that.

While annoying, neither of these lapses are bad enough to detract from the rest of the film.  It’s welcome to find a hard, gritty space drama complete with a lot of ideas, a well thought out setting, a strong story, and even a surprise or two.  Dan Mor is entirely convincing as Kye, while Aleisha Rose brings a lot of appeal to Tarren without ever making her weak.

However, the ship’s AI, RE3F (pronounced “Reef”), voiced by Shaun Micallef, frequently steals the show from his human co-stars.

Arrowhead may never quite achieve greatness, but it shows just what can be achieved with a tiny budget, as long as you have enough drive, imagination and creativity to make up for it.  It is yet another memorable Australian film.

And, as I said before, there’ve been quite a few of those…

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