×
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

  • The Favourite Bohemian Rapsody Star is

    The Best Movie Scenes of 2018

    When we think back on a movie that transported us, we often focus on a great scene — or maybe the greatest scene — in it. It’s natural. Those scenes are more than just defining. They can be the moment that lifts a movie into the stratosphere, that takes it to the higher reaches of [...]

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

    Box Office: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Soars Toward $35-40 Million Debut

    “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is swinging into theaters on a high note. Sony-Marvel’s latest output is launching to $42 million from 3,813 North American locations in its debut, though other more conservative estimates place that number at $35.5 million. The animated superhero story picked up $12.6 million on Friday, easily leading the pack for the weekend. [...]

  • Ventana Sur : Cinema226 Closes Four

    Cinema226 Announces Four Intl. Co-Productions, Hints at More (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mexico’s Cinema226, run by Marco Antonio Salgado and Sam Guillén, is driving into a raft of Mexico, Argentina and Spain co-productions, playing off the current vibrancy of Mexican film production funding and distribution outlets. Among the projects are titles which have been standouts at Ventana Sur’s Blood Window, the next film by Mexico-based Argentine filmmaker [...]

  • Ventana Sur Debates Gender Parity in

    Ventana Sur Debates Gender’s 50/50 in 2020 for Argentina Film Industry

    BUENOS AIRES — Despite recent gains, namely the equality pledge towards 50/50-2020 signed at the Mar del Plata Film Festival on Nov. 12, producer Magalí Nieva, pointed out that no representative from INCAA was present following the apparent resignation of its vice-president Fernando Juan Lima. “We are left without an interlocutor to discuss gender policies [...]

  • Ventana Sur Rocks with Sales, Mass

    Ventana Sur Rocks with Sales, Mass Attendance, Structural Growth

    BUENOS AIRES — Celebrating its 10th anniversary with a huge hike in attendance to over 4,000 accredited delegates, the 2018 Ventana Sur will go down in history on multiple counts: Sales and pick-ups on movies which combined social comment and entertainment value, increasingly the new foreign-language movie standard; new sections, led by a Proyecta co-production [...]

  • Ventana Sur: Aparicio Garcia Pitches Sports

    Uruguay’s Aparicio Garcia Pitches Sports Journalism Dark Comedy ‘Matufia’

    Uruguay’s Aparicio García impressed with his one-of-kind debut earlier this year, the grindhouse rural mobster comedy “La noche que no se repite,” and the filmmaker has now participated in Ventana Sur’s Proyecta section with his next project, the dark comedy thriller “Matufia.” García’s Isla Patrulla is so far the only producer, but his participation at [...]

  • UGC Distribution Closes on Mariano Cohn’s

    Ventana Sur: UGC Distribution Closes Market Hit ‘4 x 4’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — UGC Distribution has beaten out all other suitors to clinch what had became by Friday morning the most anticipated deal of this year’s Ventana Sur market: All rights to France on Argentine Mariano Cohn’s “4 x 4,” sold by Latido Films and distributed throughout Argentina by Disney. After mounting speculation about which [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content