The Horror Honeys: Your Next Breath May Be Your Last...

Your Next Breath May Be Your Last...

A Sci-Fi Honey Review by Katie

Air (2015)

Countless sci-fi films that dare to glimpse into the future offer a grim forecast for the survival of humankind; one way or another we’re bound to destroy ourselves and the habitability of the planet we call home. Few, however, imagine a world as bleakly inhospitable as the vision of Earth in Christian Cantamessa’s Air: an atmosphere so riddled with poison that the simple act of taking a breath will result in imminent death. Working off a micro-budget, Cantamessa sets the action after this new reality has taken hold, when two survivors (Norman Reedus and Djimon Hounsou) offer the only means by which humanity has a fighting chance. It’s a weighty premise for only two actors to carry for the length of an entire film, and a promising feature-length debut from a writer/director who emerged from the storytelling medium of video games.

Air opens with the awakening of our sole lead characters, Bauer (Reedus) and Cartwright (Hounsou), two average-Joe dudes saddled with the daunting task of ensuring the continuation of the human race. In the confines of an underground bunker, we eventually learn what fated them to this responsibility: Earth is left with a very limited supply of oxygen after the breathable atmosphere is polluted by volatile chemical weapons, and a select few have been chosen to eventually repopulate the planet. Sealed within the bunker are scientists who were deemed by the U.S. government as the greatest minds worthy of preserving, relegated to hyperbaric sleep chambers indefinitely, until the air outside normalizes. Someone has to maintain these sleep chambers, however, and that’s where Bauer and Cartwright come in – not saved for their brilliant scientific minds, but for their mechanical ability to keep the system going. They’re like glorified maintenance workers, with a lot more at stake than your everyday handyman.

I really hope they're getting paid for this.
If we’re going to spend an entire movie in a single enclosed space, it had better be a visually compelling one – and fortunately, that’s something that Cantamessa gets right. The bunker set is furnished not with futuristic gadgetry, but with relics from our technological past: bulky black-screened computer monitors, flickering fluorescent overhead lighting, and the screeching sounds of a dial-up modem connection. The most advanced machinery in this underground tomb are the sleep chambers, dubbed “high-tech coffins," where our protagonists lie dormant for six months at a time until they’re allotted two hours of breathable air to wake up and maintain the other chambers before being sent to sleep again. After a fire destroys one sleep chamber, Bauer and Cartwright are faced with the unenviable decision to either terminate one scientist sleeper and take their place, or face a slow and painful death by asphyxiation. The claustrophobia in this environment is twofold: not only are you locked inside a subterranean shelter, but every breath you take must be carefully controlled and quantified. Between one character nearly suffocating to death and another crawling through a narrow duct system to find help, Cantamessa knows how to prey on the neuroses of a claustrophobic audience in order to amplify an already pervasive sense of dread.

What does this button do? Oh, shit!
Like I said before, this is a lot of dramatic weight for only two performers to carry – so in order for Air to truly succeed, it needed both a powerful script and two lead actors who were more than up for the challenge. Hounsou has a pair of Oscar nominations under his belt, and the veteran actor is exceptional at conveying the growing madness of living inside a secluded space for too long. Reedus, however, is now so closely associated with his garden-variety tough guy Walking Dead character Daryl Dixon that it’s jarring at first to hear him talk about science-y things like oxygen toxicity. Still, given their limited means, both actors do a commendable job at bringing a relatively lackluster script to life. In a sense, this element of the film was doomed from the outset; by confining all the action to one space and setting it after the cataclysmic events that sent them to the bunker in the first place, much of the dialogue is awkwardly expository in order to fill in the gaps. Cantamessa’s inability to utilize the “show-not-tell” style of filmmaking means greater burden is placed on the actors to explain everything – and this is a movie, not Norman Reedus Story Hour.

Although, Norman Reedus Story Hour DOES sound fun!
A sci-fi film that has half the budget of a standard blockbuster feature needs to have double the creativity to compensate; unfortunately, Air only brings us halfway there. Though it’s an intriguing idea for a movie on the surface, the execution of the story is hampered by its own limited premise, and Cantamessa is never able to truly elucidate on the juicy moral dilemmas presented by every dramatic turn. The resulting film leaves you feeling a little bit underwhelmed by where the story could have gone, especially when madness-inducing isolation causes the two men to turn on one other. This cat-and-mouse scenario may have fared well in the video games that Cantamessa has a background in; but for a feature-length film, it probably won’t leave you breathless.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Three oxygen masks out of five.

Air is available via iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Google Play, & blu-ray/DVD

Have you seen Air yet? What did you think?
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