June 9, 2019 Project Ithaca (Movie Review)
Divided they will die, but together they just might be able to find a way home in the new Canadian Sci-Fi Thriller Project Ithaca. Saban Films in the U.S., along with Wild Media Entertainment and Raven Banner Releasing in Canada, delivered the film to select North American theaters and VOD starting on Friday, June 7, 2019. However, it also arrives to iTunes, Cineplex, Shaw, and Vimeo on July 9th. Additionally, for a list of upcoming Canadian theatrical screening locations, please see the end of this article.
In the film, a group of strangers wake up shocked and terrified, covered in black goo and trapped aboard an alien ship. A special agent with the U.S. Department of War, John Brighton (James Gallanders: Saw II 2005, Bride of Chucky 1998) quickly becomes their de facto leader. Almost immediately, he recognizes one of their faces, a young woman named Sera (Deragh Campbell: Never Eat Alone 2016, Fail to Appear 2017) with whom he has a history. The others, however, are total strangers: former rockstar Zack (Alex Woods: Covert Affairs series, The Expanse series), convict Perry (Daniel Fathers: Dark Matter series, Snatch series), teacher Rhonda (Konima Parkinson-Jones: 12 Monkeys series, The Silence 2019), and French prostitute Alex (Caroline Raynaud: La Vie en Rose 2007, Dictionnaire de l’amour fourbe 2008).
Finding themselves bound and threatened by a faceless alien species, the six strangers begin to talk amongst themselves and quickly realize the impossible: they have each been abducted from an entirely different decade and place. Why they have been brought together is the question that lingers, unspoken. The answer to this puzzle seems to connect to each of their individual pasts, as well as to a secret government research campaign entitled Project Ithaca.
Clocking in at 85 minutes, Project Ithaca was directed by Nicholas Humphries (Riese series, Mermaid’s Song 2015), and written by a pair of first-timers— Anthony Artibello, who has previously worked behind-the-scenes on such films as 2006’s Skinwalkers and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, along with Kevin C. Bjerkness, who associate produced the 2015 Documentary Jeff Wall: In Order to Make a Picture. The film also features the acting talents of Taylor Thorne (Condor series, Northern Rescue series), Claire Riley (Freddy vs. Jason 2003, The Core 2003), and more.
Billed as a Sci-Fi Thriller, the film is exactly this. It is, however, clearly a lower-budget take on Science Fiction and, for this, quite a few of its scenes of the inside and outside of the alien spacecraft receive repeated use. In fact, the bulk of the film is shot in one space with its six main actors tethered in place to strangely-winged posts that are just, to be honest, silly. Furthermore, the only alien creatures that we witness are inky black beasts that resemble a bizarre hybrid cross between a Moray eel and a Venus Flytrap, with a minuscule sprinkling of 1990’s Tremors.
Now, this is not to say that Project Ithaca does not have its moments: it has a wonderful original score by Oliver Wickham (The Lone Paddler 2017), and certainly its acting is solid. Gallanders’ Brighton is the obvious lead and the most well-rounded of the characters presented. A man with a tragic past who has dedicated his life to his work, and, in turn, the young subject of his research, Gallanders provides the bulk of the meat that hangs on the bones of this tale. Though it’s admittedly hard to shine when bound to a wall, he moves fluidly through his flashback scenes, encompassing his character with the practiced ease of a talented actor. However, while she’s the woman at the very core of this story, Campbell’s Sera is not provided quite as much material. She works well with what she has, providing a soft-voiced, tender portrayal of a confused young woman torn between her humanity and something even she cannot fully understand.
Of the supporting cast, Woods’ Zack is loud and boisterous, as is stereotypically appropriate of an ex-rocker, while Fathers’ rough Perry is immediately bristling—his portrayal perfectly-suited to his felonious character. Save for a panic attack, Parkinson-Jones’ Rhonda is almost entirely a flat character with no development, which gives the actress little to work with. Raynaud’s Alex, however, has quite the traumatic backstory and she delivers a solid performance in her role, which she shares with her younger counterpart Mia Reich. Lastly, though she hardly receives top billing, it is Riley’s portrayal of the grandmotherly figure who serves as a representative of the alien race that steals the show. The juxtaposition of her honey-sweet, warm and welcoming voice and demeanor, coupled with her threatening statements is eerie enough to make her performance one of the very best in the film.
Unfortunately, all of this is built upon the foundation of a script that never really hits its stride or hooks viewers in. There is government research and conspiracy, Roswell connections, and, of course, alien abduction, but nothing that is unique enough to be intriguing on its own. With its fairly compact runtime, Project Ithaca is viewable, though some may find it a bit lackluster at times. Certainly not for want of trying, and by no fault whatsoever of its solid casting, this is simply one alien abduction scenario that never really takes the chances necessary to deliver any real thrills. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Project Ithaca 3 of 5 stars.