The Horror Honeys: Sci-Friday ~ War; What is it Good For?

Sci-Friday ~ War; What is it Good For?

A Sci-Fi Honey New Release Review by Katie

Terminus (2016)

A few things come to mind when one hears the word Terminus, the Latin-derived noun meaning the end or extremity of anything: it’s the name of a supposed sanctuary in The Walking Dead, it’s the ancient Roman god of boundaries, and it denotes the finality of a place or idea wherever it is used. The “Terminus” of director Marc Furmie’s 2016 film is the name given to a military operation that, ironically, many of us can’t foresee coming to an end in the near future: conflict resolution in the Middle East. Indeed, the Iraq War (or the occupation of Iran in the world of Terminus) is a pervasive backdrop to interpersonal conflicts at the center of Furmie’s film, influencing the world of the characters at home even as they encounter things that are not of this world. The framework of war provides a compelling emotional context for a story that can at times feel preposterous, even for sci-fi – and gives it an air of authenticity that sets it apart from standard genre fare.

Though Terminus is set in Anytown USA, the war abroad is omnipresent for characters who hear about it on the radio, see it on TV, discuss the drafting of their hometown heroes and deal with the wounds of those who’ve survived the conflict. Zach (Todd Lasance) is one such wounded veteran, returning home to begin an arduous recovery process after losing his leg in battle. Also coping with tangential loss is widowed father David (Jai Koutrae) and his college-aged daughter Annabelle (Kendra Appleton), who moves in to help out her dad when his tuition payments to her school are rejected. Dad crashes his truck one night at the site of a meteor impact, coming into contact with an organism that possesses miraculous healing power and the ability to forewarn him of an impending nuclear holocaust. Zach joins David in the process of building a device to outlive the disaster, something that Annabelle attributes to insanity – that is, until she witnesses the power of the alien organism firsthand, as it begins to ‘heal’ Zach’s missing limb.

Now do you believe him?!  
For an independent feature shot by a first-time director on a very limited budget, a film like Terminus has to devote a lot of screen time to developing the inner world of its central characters just as much as the external – and this is something that Furmie mostly gets right. Koutrae and Appleton lend a credible sincerity to their performances as a father and daughter struggling to stay afloat amidst their shared grief, and Zach’s entrance into their lives feels like a natural progression of events. Emotional investment in the three leads makes their journey more engaging, and you don’t mind as much when the film seems to be heading towards a fairly predictable resolution. It is in that sense that the film is a success, especially when a well-rounded story is needed to compensate for the lack of other resources – namely, a substantial special effects budget.

This thing is totally apocalypse-proof!
Like New Zealand’s Z for Zachariah, Terminus is a product of Australia that attempts to mimic the environment, ‘down home’ values, and everyday milieu of rural Middle America. Aside from a few setting challenges specific to being located Down Under, Furmie and his trio of lead actors achieve an impressively authentic American sensibility, especially where a conservative view of war is concerned. The main misstep in this area are the shady governmental villains that are so often the evildoers at the center of any sci-fi story with a conspiracy angle, and it’s clear that Furmie has seen one too many films with this genre trope. Donning dark suits or hazmat gear and throwing words like “protocol” around to further their underhanded scheme, the supervillain agents of the film’s NSA (not that one – this is the ‘National Science Agency’) are eye-rollingly unconvincing in carrying out their devious nuclear agenda. If these baddies didn’t lay it on so thick, Terminus might have more credibility as a drama film with a sci-fi edge, rather than yet another retread of the genre’s most overused antagonist.

These were rented from Generic Bad Guys ‘R’ Us
Terminus is not the first film to use the outlandish properties of science fiction to tell a story about a current or impending reality; Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), John Carpenter’s They Live (1988), and Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009), are all Earthly socio-political allegory disguised as otherworldly adventure. From The Babadook (2014) to The Final Girls (2015), there’s even a recent spate of horror movies that use the genre to explore the emotional weight of grief and loss. Terminus uses the genre to navigate both of these avenues, and at times does it very well – though the finished product ultimately lacks the profundity of the aforementioned features, and is hindered slightly by a restricted budget, derivative antagonists, and a cast and crew who have yet to hone their craft. Still, Terminus is a respectable first feature for writer/director Marc Furmie, and a promising sign for things to come both from the artist and from genre movies that use deep space to mine the existential depths of the human condition.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Three-and-a-half healing space-creatures out of five

Terminus is available via iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Google Play, in limited theatrical release, & DVD

Have you seen this Aussie sci-fi?
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