Outer space, at least thanks to modern filmmaking, is no longer unexplored in the typical sense. Spaceships and the sea of stars have become rather commonplace. Even with these thousands of movies set in the last frontier, new thriller Solitary breaks genre stereotypes as well as ushers in social justice to new heights.
The dystopian plot follows a man who wakes up aboard a spacecraft, having no memory of how he got there or why he’s there at all. It’s soon revealed that he is a convict sent to space to create new colonies on other planets, unwillingly pioneering a new direction for Earth’s prison systems.
Solitary is driven by writer/director Luke Armstrong, who wore many hats during production if the credits are any indication. Armstrong’s impressive resume ranges all the way from Avengers: Endgame to Paddington 2, and Armstrong’s experienced hands over all of Solitary’s elements create an ultimately strong debut.
Solitary’s immediate critique of mass incarceration was a pleasant surprise, as it was the main focus and it centered a marginalized group as opposed to those outside or those inflicting the marginalization. It’s no secret how carceral systems like forced prison labor have perpetuated slavery into plain sight, but to see an action-thriller film take this view is refreshing and all too necessary for today’s viewers. It shouldn’t take a grand sci-fi movie for people to respect others’ human rights, but it can’t hurt to have media intended to resonate with folks in order to support these communities.
The film also strongly critiques our mass media, and billionaire corporations’ dealings with it. There are purposefully cringeworthy scenes sprinkled throughout that expose hypocrisy across the board, and the commentary is more relevant now than ever. Solitary’s mission felt reminiscent of James Cameron’s Avatar; both films gave viewers a similar environment of telling a historically human story through an intergalactic, sci-fi lens.
Performances were strong across the board, with Jonny Sachon and Lottie Tolhurst taking lead of the film. Both of their characters were entertaining, and their overlapping anti-hero traits provided interesting development over the course of the film.
Solitary isn’t perfect, my main complaint being that while Tolhurst’s character arc feels patiently revealed over time through twists and turns, it is immediately revealed in the trailer and loglines for the film. It isn’t detrimental as the film is still interesting, but I’d love to see more film marketing that reveals less of the content while still conveying why people should see it.
The visual effects were strong throughout, creating vast atmospheres that felt just how we might imagine space to be—while still keeping up with the tense nature of the film. Armstrong’s visual effects background paid off, leading the visuals of Solitary to become one of the main achievements of the film. This went in hand with the music and sound design, which added strong tension to scenes that were already thrilling to see.
Overall, Solitary uses grand elements to tell a disturbing and realistic story. It is a solid debut film, and hopefully its message sticks with viewers to help make change in our society.
8 out of 10