Review By: Jason Oliver
The Antares Paradox is a Spanish language drama/sci-fi effort and the first feature film from the long-time 3-D animator and visual effects artist, Luis Tinoco. Tinoco is also the director of Onirikal Studios, which is becoming well known for its visual FX work on films such as Hellboy (2019) and The Returned (2013). The Antares Paradox is also the first full length feature film to be produced by Onirikal Studios. As a part of Film’s Seizure’s 2022 Fantastic Fest coverage, we bring you this review of the film’s international premiere.
Official Synopsis from the film’s press materials:
Alexandra is on duty shift at a radio telescope when a strange signal is detected, and if verified, it would answer one of the most important questions in humanity. She only has two hours to verify the signal, but a sudden family matter will force her to face an inner struggle in a race against the clock to unveil one of the mysteries of the universe.
You might expect a film produced by a SFX studio and directed by someone with a 20 year career as a visual FX artist to be a dazzling visual feast, heavy on SFX perhaps at the cost of the story, but that is not the case here. Tinoco has crafted a very intimate story, set all in one location, and driven primarily by an impressive performance by Andrea Trepat as Alexandra, a SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) scientist and satellite radio operator. The story begins with Angela giving a remote video interview with an astronomy podcaster and answering questions from his listeners. There appears to be a more than healthy amount of skepticism about her work with SETI and one viewer asks her why she should devote so much attention and resources to what may be a fruitless pursuit when so many people here on Earth are in need of basic necessities like food and shelter. Her answer is a good one and sets up the core theme and conflict of the film. What is more important: a devotion to one’s passions, in this case science and the pursuit of finding answers to life’s greatest mysteries, or duty and responsibility to family?
It’s here you might start comparing the film to 1997’s Contact and Alexandre’s character to Jodie Foster’s Dr. Arroway. It’s a fair comparison as both characters are given little respect, even by their peers, for what is seen as a pointless waste of resources. And both characters are forced to confront the metaphysical consequences of such a pursuit. Imagine if Contact was only the story of Arroway detecting and verifying the signal while confronting a variety of Murphy’s Law type conflicts and you’re close to the plot of The Antares Paradox.
The fun of The Antares Paradox is in the ticking clock aspect of her attempting to verify the signal she receives from a distant star, Antares. There are several verification checks required and I can only assume that these have been thoroughly researched by Tinoco as somewhat accurate. They seem reasonable, however they also feel tantamount to pushing a few buttons. I never get the sense that Alexandra is doing science, but is instead a very passionate technician. To make matters more difficult, there is a storm approaching with high winds that risks her losing the satellite telescope to catastrophic damage. But if she stows the telescope like protocol dictates, she will lose the signal. On top of it all, her father is dying and she is forced to make a choice to stay and complete the verification protocol or abandon the signal in order to be with her father in his last moments. It’s in this choice that we find the crux of the conflict but also my biggest criticism. We find out that even her own co-workers and sister don’t believe in her work and make passive aggressive comments about it. There is constant sniping between her and her sister about one being the “smart” one and the other the “stupid” one. She supposedly works 30 minutes from the hospital but it is implied that she has not seen or spoken to her father during his entire ordeal. Given the many video and phone calls she makes during the course of the movie, one starts to doubt the believability of this conflict. And ultimately, she shouldn’t have to choose. The story tries to reconcile both of her devotions, to science and family, but she also betrays the fundamental answer to the question she gives in her interview. What starts as a fun melodrama devolves into a frustrating exercise with a less than satisfying conclusion. One might say that in her world where even her scientific peers work against her, humanity doesn’t deserve the enrichment of her discovery, but that’s a difficult pill to swallow and left me somewhat infuriated. She resolves her story with her father in a beautiful and profound way, but at a cost that I’m not sure she can live with and that she didn’t even need to choose.
There is a lot to admire about The Antares Paradox. The performances are strong, the score is well placed and defined. I thought the single set location was extremely effective at putting the audience in Alexandra’s shoes and emphasized the lack of options and resources she has at her disposal. However, the way in which the people in Alexandra’s life diminish and judge her, from her closest colleague to her father’s nurse, did not feel genuine. All of it felt like overly melodramatic piling on. And in the end, the contrivance of her conflict, particularly the relationship with her sister and father, contradicts and muddles the character’s very essence.