Marc Caro’s throbbing, disturbing tale of two new arrivals on a putrid penal craft in a forsaken cosmos posits that in space, no one can hear your screaming symbolism. The dank, arresting visual style Caro perfected with then co-helmer Jean-Pierre Jeunet on “Delicatessen” and “City of Lost Children” and on latter’s “Alien: Resurrection” is alive and well in this wearing assault on the senses. Jan. 2 release is specialist fare with a potent yuck factor.
Derivative in its broad contours yet given to bursts of ickiness that qualify as original, pic is an airsick cousin to Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine” in which captors and prisoners speak French and everybody’s waxy-skinned and bald.
There will be three circles to this particular hell, introduced by the words “First Circle” and so forth, superimposed over the darkness of space. Voiceover by the craft’s lucid and compassionate Persephone (Simona Maicanescu), one of three doctors on board, tells us that everybody on the crucifix-shaped vessel Dante 01 is doomed. Cool.
In the bravura opening, a shuttle docks to deliver two passengers. Frozen, shrink-wrapped Saint Georges (Lambert Wilson) is rudely defrosted and left to vomit and sweat with understandable acclimation problems.
Other passenger is no-nonsense doctor Elisa (Linh Dan Pham, in an impressive 180 from her role as Roman Duris’ piano teacher in “The Beat That My Heart Skipped”). She’s there to use the prisoners as guinea pigs for a new nanotechnology-derived “treatment” that’s obviously really painful, not to mention unethical and evil. Her corporate approach is odious, but mission chief Charon (Gerald Laroche) sanctions it.
Relentless sound design displays absolute mastery of the tonalities of unease as pic radiates otherworldly creepiness, augmented by cast’s distinctive faces. Finale is as visually riveting as it is narratively predictable (seeing as how Persephone’s voice keeps popping in to tell us to abandon hope, having entered here, in direct proximity to hell).
Marvelously muscular and expressive, Wilson gives a dedicated, near-wordless perf. Surprisingly, Caro-Jeunet staple Dominique Pinon registers as stilted until a harrowing sequence in which (shades of “Alien: Resurrection”) he plunges into a flooded conduit in hopes of reaching a manual control panel.
Ensemble cast fully inhabits the invented environment, which, while admirably complete, will be a little too hermetic for the masses.