Moon is an original, visceral and riveting sci-fi thriller that is literally out of this world.

What are the chances of making a sci-fi film with a low budget, with virtually non-existent CGI, with just one actor playing out most of the plot? Furthermore, what are the chances of that film doing exceptionally well at the Sundance Film Festival after having been filmed by a rookie director?

Co-written by Duncan Jones in his directorial debut, this is one such film that goes on to prove that expensive budgets and mind numbing effects are not always a sure fire guarantee in the sci-fi genre. What works for Jones is the simplest yet best formula there is in cinema storytelling, which in this case happens to be a well written script matched only by the actor it is written for. And that actor is Sam Rockwell, perfectly cast as the only human on the surface of the moon. Due to the current energy crisis on planet Earth, Sam Bell is an implant on the moon with the sole purpose of mining lunar soil for harvesting helium-3, a clean energy source he sends back to Earth. Assisting him in this solitary project is an artificial intelligence controlled robot called GERTY aptly voiced by Kevin Spacey. GERTY is also Sam’s only companion, programmed to monitor his tasks while vigilantly watching over his health and daily supplies. Nearing the end of a three year contract, Sam is eagerly anticipating his return to Earth, more to reunite with his wife who was heavily pregnant on his departure, than to get away from this isolated existence. But due to a communications satellite failure, live video conferencing between home and the moon are limited to recorded messages sent both ways, but only occasionally. Now with just two weeks left for his return, GERTY does not recommend fixing the satellite relay, but maintains priority in extracting energy. It is at this point when Sam’s health starts to fail with unexplained hallucinations. Awakening in the infirmary after an accident, Sam overhears a live communication feed between GERTY and headquarters on Earth, arousing his suspicion that all is not as it seems. Worse, Sam arrives at a startling conclusion that he may have never been alone all along.

For a sci-fi thriller that lacks any of the grand splendours we have grown to expect from the likes of Star-Trek and Star Wars, Jones adopts a technique most active directors would easily avoid only for its retro feel. Although 2009 has left its mark as the year of the sequels (was it Star Trek 6?), Jones has the definitive edge in terms of originality of content and fluidity of context. Having said that, Stanley Kubrick fans are in for a nostalgic trip down memory lane with certain similarities to 2001: A Space Odyssey. GERTY, eerily voiced by Kevin Spacey more than pays homage to HAL 9000. Then there is the disorientation and hallucination associated with solitude as last seen in Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris. But Jones isn’t done yet, in fact by the time we start to unravel his diabolical twist towards the end, he has only just begun to narrate how unique we humans really are. And by the time he’s done, there awaits a shocking lesson in corporate ethics versus human identity; homework if you will, for us to mull over long after the credits go up. This again, is masterfully penned into Nathan Parker’s screenplay, adapting from Jones’ original story. Two other aspects seamlessly blending in are Clint Mansell’s score and Gary Shaw’s believable cinematography. Remember, CGI is at a bare minimum, yet that sinister feeling of being the only person living on the moon is well rendered. Ironically, sometimes you even feel Sam’s claustrophobia when there is everywhere to run, but no here to hide. And this is when Mansell’s score heightens that alarming sensation.

For a film that starts slow, it sure packs a stinger of a blind-sided punch in the end, one that will have viewers reeling in thought and drooling for more. Good thing then, that Jones is already planning a prequel and a sequel, thus broadening this narrative into his own sci-fi trilogy. If he stays on course as he does here, I’m betting hands down that the sci-fi genre is about to witness another colossal battle – Duncan Jones as David versus J. J. Abrams as Goliath.

Rating: ★★★★½

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.