×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Astral’

Evil spirits take their bloody time showing up in this talky, tedious indie Brit horror.

Director:
Chris Mul
With:
Frank Dillane, Vanessa Grasse, Trevor White, Mark Aiken, Juliet Howland, Damson Idris, Ned Porteous, Jennifer Brooke, Darwin Shaw, Catherine Steadman.
Release Date:
Nov 23, 2018

1 hour 23 minutes

You’ll wish you could project yourself into a different entertainment dimension while slogging through “Astral.” This almost perversely uneventful, talky attempt at horror involves college students with malevolent spirits, only the ghoulies take their bloody time to manifest, while the protagonists are even duller than usual in such enterprises. This Brit indie feature debut for director/co-scenarist Chris Mul is mostly impressive for having wrangled overseas theatrical distribution at all: It opens on 10 Stateside screens simultaneous with a digital/VOD launch.

In a prologue, a young woman is released from a psychiatric hospital, only to seemingly commit suicide while investigating poltergeist-y sounds upstairs from her sleeping husband. Fifteen years or so later, their only child Alex (Frank Dillane) is a university student intrigued by a professor’s theoretical discussion of the astral plane. He decides to personally attempt “astral projection” — having a deliberate “out-of-body experience” in which the spirit supposedly roams free of its physical container — and after reading a couple how-to’s online, apparently succeeds.

A schoolmate rigs Alex’s computer to record future sessions. Afterward, the visual evidence suggests sleeping Alex in his dorm room may have accidentally opened a “gate” not just to his own spiritual self, but to “shadow people” who are probably evil. (Why? Because this is a horror movie, dummy.) Growing alarmed, Alex consults various experts including, eventually, a clairvoyant (Juliet Howland). Upon reading his Tarot cards, she holds an impromptu seance/exorcism to expunge a hostile demon in what is virtually the film’s first, and last, spurt of action.

It’s one that’s more than a bit laughable, but by then, unintentional laughs are as manna from heaven. “Astral” is the kind of movie that hopes you don’t notice its sneaky way of doing a fantasy theme on slim means by simply having characters chin-wag about that fantasy concept ad nauseam. But we do notice, because the characters and their yakking are so tediously generic.

“Fear of the Walking Dead” thesp Dillane makes a curiously irksome protagonist, fussing with his emo haircut and demonstrating a vocabulary of fey gesticulations that render the pining presence of wannabe-girlfriend Alyssa (Vanessa Grasse) even more gratuitous. Otherwise, “Astral” demonstrates one unexpected pitfall of a routine teen-type horror movie being shot in England with professional actors: They’re so much better trained than their U.S. counterparts would likely be, there’s no fun in the stereotypical roles or cloddish dialogue. This already flavorless movie could use some guilty-pleasure cheesiness. Instead, the performers’ refusal to embarrass themselves (while failing to generate actual interest or sympathy) makes it like eating Kraft Mac & Cheese minus its second most essential ingredient.

Mostly, people prattle in wide-eyed, humorlessly explanatory ways about possible supernatural phenomena while sitting in libraries or classrooms. We also spend much time watching Alex doze in his dorm bed, a particularly boring reiteration of the slow-burn surveillance suspense milked dry by the “Paranormal Activity” series. It takes more than 40 minutes for the film to produce its first minor scare — and that’s just an audio “gotcha” by Ed Watkins’ original score, one of the more competent package elements here. Another is Charles Heales’ cinematography, which takes advantage (particularly in some impressive drone shots) of Royal Holloway College’s splendid mid-19th-century architecture.

Its deficiencies capped by a shrug-inducing non-ending, “Astral” is an almost consummate no-there-there experience. Very little “happens,” what little does happen is poorly explicated. In retrospect you might giggle at the memory that this turgid pulp starts with a portentously serious disclaimer: “Whist the events herein are fictionalised for the audience’s entertainment, the premise is very real. The filmmakers in no way condone any behaviour or action that might endorse the undertaking of astral projection.”

Film Review: 'Astral'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Nov. 18, 2018. Running time: 83 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A Vertical Entertainment release (U.S.) of a Craven Street production. Producers: Christos Kardana, Chris Mul. Executive producers: Rudy Lobo, Michael Mul.

Crew: Director: Chris Mul. Screenplay: Mul, Michael Mul. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Charles Heales. Editor: Giorgio Galli. Music: Ed Watkins.

With: Frank Dillane, Vanessa Grasse, Trevor White, Mark Aiken, Juliet Howland, Damson Idris, Ned Porteous, Jennifer Brooke, Darwin Shaw, Catherine Steadman.

More Film

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up President Lisa Borders Resigns

    Lisa Borders has resigned as president of Time’s Up, she and the organization announced on Monday. Borders is resigning due to family issues, she said in a statement. Time’s Up COO Rebecca Goldman will now serve as interim CEO. More Reviews Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath' Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in [...]

  • Keira Knightly as "Rachael Morgan" in

    Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath'

    Less widely seen (and acclaimed) than it deserved to be, James Kent’s debut feature “Testament of Youth” was one of the great recent love-in-wartime dramas, translating the intimate romance and sprawling human tragedy of Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir with a grace and heft worthy of its David Lean allusions. Four years on, it’s not hard [...]

  • Inside Amazon's New Feature Film Strategy

    Amazon's New Film Strategy: Straight-to-Service Titles and Starry Sundance Buys

    It was close to midnight when Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke got the text. The company had failed in its quest to acquire “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a body image dramedy that captivated Salke when she saw it at Sundance. A sales agent on the project messaged her to say that a competitor offered a [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

  • TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab

    TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab (EXCLUSIVE)

    The TorinoFilmLab has announced the 20 feature projects and five story editor trainees who have been selected to take part in the 2019 edition of ScriptLab, an initiative focused on the development of fiction feature film scripts in early development stage. Beginning in March, this year’s participants will team up with filmmakers from around the [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    North American Box Office Declines From Last Year With Weak Presidents Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” easily won a tepid Presidents Day weekend with a $34.2 million at 3,790 North American locations, estimates showed Monday. Overall domestic moviegoing for 2019 has plunged 22.1% to $1.24 billion as of Monday, according to Comscore. That’s $350 million below the same date a year ago and the lowest figure at this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content