Solid dialogue and good performances keep things interesting.

by C. Rachel Katz

I thought this was going to be a low-grade indie sci-fi movie, with more passion than cash. And it was. But it was also not quite what I was expecting. Rather than being a B-grade sci-fi war movie, Shockwave Darkside is a B-grade sci-fi movie that muses on war. Weirdly, and for no good reason, it reminded me Screamers.

After religion was outlawed, all the believers—regardless of their belief system—were sent to the moon. The thinking was they would die up there as they prayed, futilely, to their gods for salvation. But they didn’t die. Instead, they found just enough water to survive. Meanwhile, all the water on Earth was slowly turning poisonous. Now, all those earthly atheists are dying of thirst and have picked a fight with the god-fearing moon-dwellers.

That’s only the backstory. Shockwave Darkside is actually about a small group of soldiers who survived getting shot down while on a water scouting mission. As they roam around the darkside of the moon, awaiting rescue they philosophize about religion and war. Then they make a startling discovery, one which will shake the foundations of everyone’s beliefs, not just about religion, but humanity itself.

Shockwave Darkside
Directed by
Jay Weisman
Mei Melancon, Bill Sage, Sonequa Martin-Greene, Rich Ceraulo, Alexander Cendese
Release Date
January 2016
Rachel’s Grade: C

I have to say, I rather liked how the movie focused more on the nature of the conflict and wasn’t a  mission-oriented sci-fi adventure. The very fact that these soldiers have nothing to do but talk to each other as they traverse the desolate moonscape, leaves plenty of room for “meaningful” dialogue and discussion. It’s not too preachy, it doesn’t harp on the injustices of war, nor are the characters pigeon-holed into stereotypes. That having been said, I do have to take one issue with a particular characterization: Private Schorr, who’s supposed to be some kind of Kabbalist, would have been better described as a Maccabee. I can’t speak to the other religions represented in the rag-tag group of survivors, but of this one I’m sure; Kabbalists, even those living in the far-distant future, aren’t likely to make good soldiers.

It’s a tad ironic the majority of Shockwave Darkside‘s issues lie in its action and effects—strange problems for a sci-fi movie. When the movie switches to character points-of-view, the viewer is looking through a heads-up display that is much too busy. The overwhelming amount of data onscreen make it hard to focus on the person or action you’re supposed to be attending to. Moreover, when an action sequence is intercut with the HUD, the movie is almost impossible to watch. Making matters worse are the moments when we’re privy to enemy surveillance. Periodically, we’re treated to the output from a search-and-destroy satellite that’s cruising the darkside. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be looking at. Yeah, it’s the ground, but other than that…? Then there’s the sequence with the tunneling autonomous explosives. Not only is it difficult to “read” their visual output, when they attack, nearly the entire action scene is experienced through the eyes of a survivor who’s looking in the opposite direction. And finally, there’s Dalton’s unexplained side-quest to do…something. I think he laid a trap for the enemy, but I’m not one hundred per cent sure about that because I couldn’t really see or understand what he was doing.

Also, when Dalton wanders off, no one makes mention of the fact that he’s gone. Either they didn’t notice, which is impossible given their numbers, or they don’t find it odd that he just disappeared, which is highly questionable from a storytelling point of view. And it’s not the only time the script just gleans over an apparent missing chunk of story. When another member of the small ensemble dies, it happens offscreen and no one talks about it; that person simply isn’t there anymore. If I thought it was weird that a sci-fi movie should have problems with its visual effects, a character and story-based movie such as this shouldn’t have these kinds of script problems.

Still, despite its shortcomings, I kinda liked the movie. Does it open with a promise of action or story development that goes unfulfilled? Yes. Is it maybe ten minutes too long? Probably. But it’s really not that bad. The dialogue is solid, the performances are good, and its ideas and themes are interesting.