Reviewing truly bad cinema can be one of the purest forms of entertainment a film critic can experience. Crafting a review of a meritless mess can serve as the antithesis to what the job normally entails – even handily looking at all of a movie’s components be they big or small in a way that is fair and without prejudice, preconceived notions or bullying. When a film is truly horrendous there is little one can do besides tear it apart. Then there are films like the sci-fi thriller Stranded, an experience so without identity, spark or narrative drive it evokes no emotion one way or the other. I exited this low budget effort feeling as if I hadn’t seen anything, like it had all been a dream and was already beginning to slowly seep from my mind as the tasks of a new day slowly replaced it.
If being so creatively nondescript wasn’t bad enough, anything that could be considered somewhat compelling has been pilfered freely from other genre works. Alien, The Thing, Solyaris and even last year’s Prometheus all became further victims of artistic infringement as if their themes, imagery and ideas hadn’t been soiled enough already. Stranded doesn’t even make much effort to mask the fact it is ripping off these far better works of science fiction, in fact it could be argued it is putting them front and center in the hopes of distracting us from how limp and lame everything else transpiring truly is.
This Frankensteinian mess takes us on a supposed adventure to a moon base mining operation (yes, this again) housed in a bleak, confined command center which has just been ravaged by a meteor shower. But it turns out these space rocks house a fast growing bacteria that after infecting one of the four crew members, is birthed out in the form of a shape-shifting entity that takes the form of another member on the ship. From then on out we get pathetic attempts at psychological horror as the victim of the alien doppelganger tries to cope with seeing another version of his self strutting around, all while the facility slowly fills with carbon monoxide. I’m getting the chills just typing that.
The only recognizable face in this small cast is that of Christian Slater as a Colonel on the base, who appears to be the only one of the quartet even capable of delivering a line with any sort of emotion (still limited as that may be) or with any sort of brain in his head. Even at times when he’s presented as the antagonist for quarantining the aforementioned “mother” of this intruder, we’re all on his side, as if we wouldn’t do the same exact thing if someone had just been exposed to freaking space bacteria. The doctor who rounds out these four blurts overly complex exposition and diagnoses, making it clear the screenwriters heavily consulted a thesaurus before penning anything to do with this character. Collectively they’re as bland, inert and brainless as the minerals they’re mining.
Narratively Stranded is an equal blunder, not so much intent on telling a story with a beginning, middle and end as squishing together a string of standalone encounters and scenes of mind numbing human “drama.” We don’t even get to meet these characters before the meteor show occurs; we just fade into a sequence of rocks pelting a model base. It truly feels as if we’re missing some 20 minutes off the bat, not that I would pretend to want to spend any more time with this film. Clearly the filmmakers don’t have any realization of how important it is to have a connection with the individuals that are in peril is, perhaps instead hoping to wow us with what the shoestring budget can provide in the way of awe inspiring effects.
Bereft of vision, content with utter mediocrity and wallowing in unintentional silliness, Stranded is pretty much exactly what you might expect from a film of this standing. For its runtime we get perhaps three scenes with any kind of a visceral impact but for good measure it ensures they’re lifted directly from other fare. Even with a budget ten times higher and a committed A-list cast, this sci-fi wannabe would still be doomed. I wish I could provide more direct, concrete examples of why this film should immediately fade into obscurity but perhaps fittingly, my memories of Stranded have already done just that.