Fantasia 2017: Attraction
Fyodor Bondarchuk’s Attraction, an alien invasion film playing at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, is a peculiar film. In its last moments, it clearly aspires to be a socially conscious science fiction film in the vein of Arrival or The Day the Earth Stood Still, we’re warned that humanity’s propensity for violence will, eventually spell our doom. And this point is hammered home in especially direct fashion through themes of immortality and sacrifice. But, ultimately, the din of the cataclysmic destruction and threadbare characters drown out this message, and indeed all of the film’s interesting themes.
It is clear that Bondarchuk wants us to care about a world worth saving even as he struggles to conjure one on-screen. We are given mere moments with our central characters before chaos erupts. And, when it does, the ways in which characters go about surviving the chaos hardly ever build out their characters in interesting ways. Motivations seem to be driven by the Divine hand of broader plot arcs rather than genuine resourcefulness or a basic sense of self-preservation. But, perhaps more egregious than the characters operating on auto-pilot is their inability to react believably to the events that transpire around them. At one point, our main character, Yulya, has an alien bracelet grafted onto her person. Its liquid contours conform to her wrist. Most human beings would react with shock, fear, surprise or some combination these aforementioned emotions. Most human beings would attempt to remove the technology. Most human beings would maybe worry that the bracelet was, I don’t know, somehow potentially harmful to their person. But, no. Yulya reacts with moderate surprise when it grafts onto her early on in the film, then with slightly more surprise later on when she discovers what it can do. Though I appreciate the visual artistry of the prop and the CG animation that went into bringing it to life, the most technically and visually impressive CG and prop work in the world doesn’t truly matter if it fails to breathe believability into a character.
All this having been said, Bondarchuk’s latest is at least a pretty film. The alien technology, which for the most part consists of black and silver exoskeletons, looks sleek and – contrived as the design is – certainly is pleasing to the eye. The framing and cinematography are consistently solid, if unspectacular. Though, occasionally Bondarchuk will indulge in a shot simply because it’s visually pleasing regardless of how it confuses the temporality of the film’s narrative.
Ultimately, though, Attraction’s central flaw is a crisis of conscience. It seems to want to deal with the self-destructive tendencies of humanity, but fails to precede its conclusion with any substantial exploration of the topic before. It wants to encourage us to think about how immortality would affect the way we interact with one another. But, here too, it fails to provide any meaningful example of its topic of choice. It seems to want to be a serious science fiction that grapples with the human condition while never granting us the opportunity to understand the humans at the center of this tale.