The Horror Honeys: Beyond: The Aliens Are Not What They Seem

Beyond: The Aliens Are Not What They Seem

A Misdirected Sci-Fi Honey Review by Katie

Beyond (2014)

Earlier this week I caught a recent release on Netflix called Beyond: a Scottish indie filed into the “Sci-Fi and Fantasy” genre category, and noted as being exceptionally “suspenseful and dark.” Intrigued, I sat down and watched a film that turned out to be quite different from what I expected based on Netflix’s estimation of Beyond’s plot and themes. While this didn’t ruin the experience for me, both Netflix and IMDB are flooded with one-star reviews of Beyond from viewers who felt insulted and cheated by this misrepresentation. Claims of “false advertising” and failure to live up to the product they envisaged are rampant, plummeting the film’s overall ranking to the lowest common denominator of Netflix’s sci-fi offerings. How, then, could I thoroughly enjoy a film that’s almost unanimously derided – and is it truly fair to fault a film for not delivering on the promise of its advertising?

To a casual observer, Netflix is spot-on with its categorization of Beyond; from the poster art to its enticing logline, it seems as though an action-packed alien invasion is in store for anyone who clicks that beckoning play button. Richard J. Danum and Gillian MacGregor star as Cole and Maya, a couple who Meet Cute at a party and embark on a relationship three years before the possible collision of a destructive meteor with Earth. New couples are met with enough challenges without adding impending doom to the mix, but things get even more strained when Maya discovers that she’s pregnant. Cole feels that bringing a child into the world so close to its possible destruction is a cruel and irresponsible act, while Maya is adamantly opposed to considering an abortion. As the film oscillates between flashbacks of the beginning of their relationship to flash-forwards of the meteor’s aftermath, we learn that this space disaster has brought volatile visitors to Earth – and Cole and Maya must stay hidden during night hours to ensure their survival.

If you're the last two people alive, hopefully you like each other.
I’ll warn you now so you don’t feel wholly swindled by the experience of watching Beyond: the ‘Little Green Men’ of the film are ultimately just red herrings. What the film chooses to focus on more in-depth are the complexities of interpersonal relationships, growing up and accepting responsibility, and the weighty consequences of our choices. When Cole and Maya meet, the asteroid’s collision with Earth is only a remote possibility that will take years to arrive, so it’s difficult for anyone to know how to feel about it. If it were a more immediate certainty – one that would arrive in three days instead of three years, for example – according to Maya, “nothing would matter.” On the contrary, Cole responds, “everything would matter.” This exchange is the first glimpse into how the couple sees the world differently, even when debating the forthcoming annihilation of it.

Is it appropriate to discuss the apocalypse on a first date?
Because much of the film’s loftier conflicts go largely (and wisely) unseen, Beyond places most of the dramatic weight solely on the two lead actors, who are more than capable in their roles. The central relationship evolves in a believable fashion, even when significant periods of it are missing, thanks to the natural chemistry between Danum and MacGregor. Writer/directors Joseph Baker and Tom Large scale back the more outlandish elements of the plot in favor of an intimate examination of who Cole and Maya really are and what they want. It is because of this approach that one shouldn’t feel hoodwinked when the film pulls the rug out from everything it previously established in the third act, shifting away from the sci-fi component of the story to ground its characters in a more commonplace reality. The result is no less gratifying for an audience that’s invested in the couple, regardless of their circumstances – whether they’re in the middle of an alien invasion, or something ultimately more prosaic. 

Look, it's aliens! Oh, j/k
If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, I’m going to look at it this way: film is a personal experience. Often some of the best films encompass a variety of genres, and Beyond is no exception. But going in with a certain expectation or preconceived mindset can sometimes detract from our enjoyment of a film and preclude us from giving it any further thought. Beyond doesn’t fit neatly into the sci-fi pigeonhole ascribed by its narrow cataloguing on Netflix, nor does it inspire the fear and awe implied by its poster art (but really, films rarely do). If you enjoy it in spite of all that, hold onto that joy and appreciate that a film can still surprise you when it takes a left turn from a well-worn path. Don’t let scores of negative reviews sway you from loving a certain project, or an avalanche of hype pressure you into liking something you just didn’t feel anything for. Look for those gems at the bottom of the heap and give them new life with an open mind – you’ll find Beyond down there, along with countless others that deserve a second chance.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Three-and-a-half misdirecting aliens out of five

Have YOU ever been caught up in the hype for a film only to be disappointed? Would you give those films a second chance? Let me know on Twitter! @moonrisesister