There’s a whole genre of low-rent sci-fi that infests the small screen. From the depths of the iTunes store to the bottom of your cable guide (for those still watching), these feature-length time suckers run the gamut from one-off “mockbusters” (Transformers begets Transmorphers and so on) to nature vs. man on crack (Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf). Occasionally some of these may find ironic popular favour like the sort of-self-aware Sharknado series, but thankfully, most of it tends to fly well under the radar. That being said, how an undercooked effort like Project Ithaca was deemed worthy of exhibition on the big screen, I’ll never know.
After a short prologue where our story’s lead Dr. John Brighton (James Gallanders) conducts an experiment on a young girl hooked up to an alien spacecraft, we flash forward 10 years later to find the both of them ensnared in the tentacled surroundings a larger alien mothership. Now grown up, Sera (Deragh Campbell) seems to have forged a mental connection to the ship, but don’t expect it to pay off anytime soon as there are at least four other cattle for the slaughter imprisoned alongside our heroes and there’s a lot of tedious backstory for each of them.
Instead of propelling the plot forward with, I don’t know, trying to escape or something, the film pads its sweet time indulging in stock backstories/nightmares of characters we couldn’t care less about. Aside from the one remotely interesting plot device of all six of the prisoners being plucked from different points in time, the film plods on with inane mumbo jumbo about the aliens feeding off our primal fear.
While the actors certainly seem to be trying to make lemonade with the sour script they’re given, the only one who really makes a mark is Claire Riley as the extraterrestrial’s grandmotherly avatar. With her cryptic dialogue juxtaposed with a sweet demeanor, the results are genuinely unsettling and one see’s a potential that the rest of the film doesn’t bother to exploit.
One nagging aspect that sours the whole viewing experience is the movie’s mad love affair with close-ups. I counted only one or two instances where the camera cut wide enough to get any sense of the scenes geography and where characters were in relation to one another. One gets the sense that the set design budget got blown on the two CGI effects of the spacecraft’s exterior, the latter of which goes on for a solid minute of space porn, but by that point we’re just praying for the end credits to start.
In the end, Project Ithaca‘s screenplay writes cheques it’s budget just wasn’t prepared to cash. With some sharper direction and better plotting, it could have made a decent short film, but as it stands, it certainly doesn’t deserve the dollars, time, or space on your screen, regardless of size.
Project Ithaca will be available on the iTunes store starting July 9