‘Solitary’ review: claustrophobic sci-fi thriller sends prisoners into space

When convicted criminal Isaac wakes up in a small metal box in space, he discovers his future has changed forever...

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    Solitary is a sci-fi movie with a limited cast and an even more limited setting. It’s a contained film – similar to 2013’s Locke and recent Prime Video thriller 7500 – which means it takes place entirely in one location. Sadly, that concept doesn’t work quite as well here as it did for its predecessors.

    Set in London, 2044, Solitary opens with Issac (Johnny Sachon) waking up in a prison cell alone. He’s been sedated and has no knowledge of where he is or why he is there. Eventually, it emerges that he’s been arrested and found guilty of a crime unknown to him. His sentence? To be among the first colonies in space – his new living quarters are, in fact, accommodation aboard a “habitation capsule” on its way to a massive ship. Next, we meet Alana (Lottie Tolhurst), the mysterious passenger sharing his cell who seems to know more than she is letting on. Later, the drama intensifies when their pod separates from the main ship, which consequently explodes. In order to survive, Havelock and Skill must work together to decipher exactly what happened and, more importantly, how they can get home.

    Best known for his visual effects work on James Bond and Marvel, director Luke Armstrong’s low-budget disaster flick features some stunning shots of outer space. But it’s more beautiful than it is gripping. There are the beginnings of a clever subtext which asks us to question our humanity as a society – in terms of how we treat and view prisoners – but not enough time is spent examining these themes to make them any more than a passing mention.

    What is most impressive about Solitary, however, is the difficult circumstances it was made in, which mirror the set-up of its two protagonists. Shot in 14 days and completed remotely during lockdown, the film reflects the claustrophobia many have felt during COVID-19. Sadly, sub-par acting and a forgettable screenplay detract from Armstrong’s achievement here. Sachon is unconvincing as the desperate Isaac, especially when his increasingly perilous situation requires extreme emotion. Lottie Tolhurst, on the other hand, is pretty much perfect and displays a level of frostiness as Alana that is downright chilling. Unfortunately, there is very little chemistry between the two and the dialogue suffers as a result. Elsewhere, the pacing of the film is all over the place. Very little happens at all until the last half hour, when a dizzying array of obstacles emerge that must be overcome. Tension isn’t built gradually enough and the open-ended finale that follows isn’t satisfying as a result.

    Solitary
    ‘Solitary’ is a claustrophobic sci-fi thriller. Credit: Inspired Films

    Solitary is enjoyable in places but fails to maintain interest throughout. One-location films – like Locke and 7500 – require a strong concept to flourish. Solitary has this, but flabby plot work and poor lead performances mean it can’t take advantage of a unique premise.

    Details

    • Director: Luke Armstrong
    • Starring: Johnny Sachon, Lottie Tolhurst, Michael Absalom
    • Release date: August 31
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