Mike Cahill’s low-budget sci-fi received tremendous buzz from the Sundance Film Festival, and made its UK debut at the Raindance Festival at the end of the summer. A low-budget sci-fi drama might seem an odd choice as we approach the habitual blockbuster season, but we recommend seeking this one out.
On the night that astronomers notice a planet seemingly identical to Earth in the sky, Rhoda (co-writer Brit Marling) crashes her car, killing the wife and son of composer John (William Mapother), who survives. When Rhoda is released 4 years later, she applies for a competition to travel to this duplicate Earth. She also tries to apologize to John, but loses her nerve and poses as his cleaner to help improve his life. As the two connect and ponder what their other selves are doing on Earth 2, she must decide whether to tell him the truth.
It’s easy to compare Another Earth to Monsters, which received almost unanimous acclaim from critics. Both are micro-budgets that use sci-fi as a backdrop to tell a two-handed character study. While Gareth Edwards used an exotic location, Cahill and Marling chose wintry Connecticut. While the pondering of what an alternate version of you might be doing isn’t particularly original (strangely enough, it made us think of Rabbit Hole), the positioning of it as a visible reality makes the idea even more potent. And although Another Earth is occasionally prone to over-earnestness and a touch of navel-gazing, what makes it work is the grounded location, the character of Rhoda, and the performance of Marling.
When writing an essay on why she should be the one to go Earth 2, Rhoda compares herself to the convicts and outcasts who travelled to find America. She’s disconnected from her family and chooses to work as a cleaner at her local high school rather than resume her studies. Marling plays downcast and disconnected beautifully, but is sadly unmatched by Mapother’s not-quite convincing performance as John. To be fair to the actor, we only see him with Rhoda. Their budding relationship doesn’t quite come off either, as her desire to make things better for him inevitably gets more complicated.
While there are faults here, they’re by-products of an ambitious attempt at a sci-fi dramatic tragedy from filmmakers early in their careers. Cahill does some very impressive work, with beautiful digital photography and seamless effects. The music is superb, and Rhoda’s journey towards forgiveness is both moving and compelling. Finally, it relies on its lead which, due to Marling’s interpretation of an excellent character, ensures Another Earth’s success.
Verdict: Its reach may only just exceed its grasp, but only just. This is a very impressive and moving debut from Cahill and both he and Marling are ones to watch.