I was excited with the opportunity to see Shockwave Darkside for a couple of reasons. First, I saw the cast – Mei MelanÃ§on (Nightmare Code, 2014), Bill Sage (The Boy, 2015; We Are What We Are, 2013; American Psycho, 2000), and Sonequa Martin-Green (The Walking Dead) — all actors whose performances I’ve enjoyed in the productions listed. And second, it’s a science fiction thriller set in a dystopian future, a subgenre I usually enjoy.
Shockwave Darkside is set on the moon in a future where water is the scarcest resource and the prime motivation for war. Earth’s water supply was poisoned 60 years prior by a nano-plague and the population has segregated into the Unlight and the Banished. The Unlight now control Earth and have a focus on science and technology. They’ve also outlawed God and created the first exodus, sending the Banished to the moon to die. The Banished are comprised of all manner of religious and spiritual faiths and beliefs. Their one commonality is a belief in a god or gods, which are universally referred to as the Outlaw or the Outlaws, regardless of the underlying faith.
The Unlight have now mounted an assault on the moon and are amassing forces on the dark side. They have already commenced water mining operations and the Banished fear the Unlight have not only come for their water, but have also come for their children so they can use their un-mutated DNA to breed the Unlight army. A military division is dispatched to repel the Unlight and the film’s story follows one team of the Banished forces. The team is led by a staff sergeant referred to as “The Machine” (Mei MelanÃ§on) for her record number of kills in one battle. Key members of her team include Cpl. Kim (Rich Ceraulo) and Pvt. Lang (Sonequa Martin-Green). The team also includes Dalton (Bill Sage), a mercenary with no religious faith, who was born and raised in a youth gladiator camp on earth.
The team’s transport is quickly shot down and crash-lands in uncharted territory on the dark side. The rest of the film documents the team’s fight for survival through several skirmishes with Unlight forces and dwindling oxygen supplies. The three surviving members of the team must also face several decisions that question what got them where they are.
Written and directed by Jay Wiesman, Shockwave Darkside is the continuation of a 2011 web-comic of the same name published online at Keenspot. This is a film you will need to pay extremely close attention to. The story is very confusing for a lot of reasons, so if you choose to take in the film, you would also be wise to read the web-comic first.
So why do I say the story is confusing? There’s far too much jargon and lingo to the point of making some of the dialogue undecipherable or off-putting. A little invented jargon helps authenticate the world created by the filmmakers, but too much can be … well, confusing.
Everyone wears a space suit that hides a majority of their face while all of the action takes place on the dark side of the moon. In other words, a lot of the time, you can’t see shit. In addition, a significant portion of the film is viewed through the helmet as if you were the soldier, giving those scenes a found footage feel. You are also looking through the helmet’s Heads-Up Display, which, though it looks kind of cool, really restricts what you’re able to see beyond the face-plate. And in order to know whose viewpoint you’re looking through, you have to look at the small print at the top of the HUD, thus taking your eyes off you’re already restricted view. So take the limited viewpoint of found footage and cover it with an elaborate HUD while distracting your vision elsewhere and basically, you can see even less shit.
Many of the action sequences are quick cuts with bright flashes. So take the already obstructed and distracted viewpoints in the dark, obscure them even more with bright flashes, and then quick cut before you can get your bearing within the scene. Several team members are killed but usually, the only way I know whose suit is lying on the ground is if someone says their name. When you can’t see shit, you don’t know shit either.
Finally, the story itself is a bit confusing. Even if you could see everything and hear every word of dialogue, you’d have a hard time “clicking” the story. (By the way, “click” is just one piece of jargon used ad nauseam.)
The special effects, so important to a science fiction film, are hit or miss. The CGI isn’t great, but for me, it was adequate, especially considering the budget. The most frequently visible practical effect was the space suit. I’m not sure what it was made of but it did not have the look or feel of the armored, force-assisted, airtight suit ti was supposed to represent. I also expected to be able to see evidence of the moon’s lesser gravity when people moved, but everyone is told to set their suits to walk “earth normal,” which helped explain that issue.
It probably seems like I disliked this film, but despite its faults, Shockwave Darkside has a lot going for it. It’s an incredibly ambitious first effort on a low budget. Even though I viewed the film in 2D, it was released in 3D. I have no idea what quality the 3D is, but just the fact that a film with a shoestring budget attempted 3D might be a future game changer when the next low budget filmmaker’s project might benefit from that treatment.
Another clearly impressive part of this film is the detail to which its world is imagined. I’m just nerdy enough that I paused the video several times so I could examine the elaborate and well thought out HUD’s and the information presented. In an introductory segment, each of the key players is displayed with their religion and past record and the characters start the film behaving accordingly. But there are genuine character arcs where motivations are examined and behavior changes as the result of experiences. Even though the actors faces are frequently in shadow, obstructed, or behind a face-plate with condensation or nose smudges on it, it’s clear that they were all 100% invested in what they were doing.
The script also attempts to deal with common themes of war and science fiction films. The nature of this future’s segregation pits faith against technology. Characters are in conflict over the necessary brutality of war versus losing their humanity. Different characters view the causes of the Banished and the Unlight through different filters, realizing that their actions would be interpreted differently from the other side’s point of view. Can we justify our inhumanity towards them with their inhumanity towards us? How do we justify our actions in war and make sense of the destruction and death? And even, not to be too stereotypical, where do we come from and where do we go? Though these questions are not necessarily answered, they are explored.
Even with its low budget, I think this could be a much better film simply by reducing the HUD clutter and adding a little exposition or dialogue to clear up some of the viewer’s confusion. Even so, I give Shockwave Darkside 2.5 out of 5 stars for its ambition and its well developed world and characters. But that’s just me.
Shockwave Darkside (2.5 / 5)