Friday, April 19, 2024

“BIOSPHERE”

THE STORY – In the not-too-distant future, the last two men on Earth must adapt and evolve to save humanity.

THE CAST – Sterling K. Brown & Mark Duplass

THE TEAM – Mel Eslyn (Director/Writer) & Mark Duplass (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 107 Minutes


The less one knows about “Biosphere” going into it, the better. Mel Eslyn’s directorial debut is “Black Mirror” by way of mumblecore. It may run too long and bite off more than it can chew, but it is undeniably inventive and anchored by two incredibly compelling lead performances. Those aspects alone make it worth watching. But it’s also worth watching because it’s one of the few films where you genuinely are shocked where the film takes you from beginning to end.

Billy (Mark Duplass) and Ray (Sterling K. Brown) are, possibly, the last humans left on Earth after some sort of man-made apocalypse. They survive inside a glass dome roughly the size of a one-bedroom apartment. As supplies dwindle, they soon realize that if they hope to survive, they must reconsider their relationship and what it really means to be human.

Although Mark Duplass didn’t direct “Biosphere,” he co-wrote it alongside longtime producer Mel Eslyn in her feature debut. However, Duplass’s influence is apparent throughout the film, not just because he is the film’s co-lead. At the end of the day, “Biosphere” is a distinctly Duplassian bit of “Mumblecore.” And if his signature brand of improvisation and melancholy-tinged humor isn’t your cup of tea, “Biosphere” may overstay its welcome.

At the same time, Eslyn brings a refreshing crispness and control to the filmmaking. Although clearly low budget, “Biosphere” is well-shot. Eslyn, cinematographer Nathan Miller, and production designer Megan Fenton keep the one-location piece visually engaging. The characters’ world may be static, but the camera is not. It’s moving and exploring every nook and cranny of the titular sphere, fleshing out how exactly a self-sustaining dome would function logistically and revealing new information about the characters through the objects shown in the environment. For a low-budget film in a single location, the film is constantly engaging to look at and continues to provide visual surprises. A mournful, acca pella score from composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans aids this.

But as with most Duplass films, the dialogue is the biggest selling point. And here, it doesn’t disappoint. Although, at times, the writing might seem a bit smug and self-satisfied with its use of sometimes on-the-nose metaphors, the conversations Billy and Ray have as they come to embrace their fates in the post-apocalypse are not only funny but also rich and nuanced. Especially as the film reveals that Billy and Ray were not just nobodies and were both important individuals who had a direct role in destroying the world, and that guilt lingers, tinging every aspect of their relationship. The conversations range from the dynamics of Mario and Luigi in the Super Mario Brothers, to the existence of God and the possibility of divine retribution, to evolutionary biology, politics, cycles of violence and toxic masculinity, and gender norms.

Sometimes, the film bites off more than it can chew thematically. “Biosphere” tackles enormous existential questions while being committed to a dramedy about two guys in a glass ball. But often, the conversations are engaging, and the delicate tonal balance between absurdist comedy and deep emotion is impressive and something truly special (there is one memorial scene in particular that stands as a minor miracle of tonal balancing).

A significant part of the reason this balancing act works is Brown and Duplass. This is a bromance, which only works if the audience believes it. The film moves straight-faced into increasingly absurdist directions as it progresses. Yet it stays grounded somehow. That’s thanks to the two magnetic leads. Duplass is good, as he often is at this stage in his acting career, but Brown is a force of nature. He presents a character that is so lively and magnetic that he radiates charisma even when speaking to fish. Yet as the film progresses, he peels back layer after layer of his outward bubbly charm to reveal the deep wounds of childhood trauma. He is entirely believable, operating in the film’s absurdist environment, and has excellent chemistry with Duplass.

Of course, even as engaging as the conversations and performances are, the film overstays its welcome. It would have made for a perfect short film or an hour-long “Black Mirror” style TV episode. At nearly two hours, though, it begins to drag. Still, when the film reaches its overly drawn-out conclusion, Brown and Duplass continue to generate such authentic warmth that you can’t help but feel emotional.

“Biosphere” is a small and simple hangout movie that plays for earnest emotions. Yet it is also an absolutely absurd high-concept piece of sci-fi that provides one of the most bizarre plots of any film this year. It raises interesting questions, and even if it doesn’t quite stick the landing, that balance is something undeniably unique. It shows that the Duplass world of films continues to mature and expand. So see it for its uniqueness, for the conversations it will prompt, and for the haymaker of a performance provided by Sterling K. Brown.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A unique spin on the bromance, hangout movie with a mesmerizing turn by Sterling K. Brown. It provides a plot that you will never guess where it is going when the film starts.

THE BAD - It bites off more than it can chew at times thematically and runs too long.

THE OSCARS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Will Mavity
Will Mavityhttps://nextbestpicture.com
Loves Awards Season, analyzing stats & conducting interviews. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>A unique spin on the bromance, hangout movie with a mesmerizing turn by Sterling K. Brown. It provides a plot that you will never guess where it is going when the film starts.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>It bites off more than it can chew at times thematically and runs too long.<br><br> <b>THE OSCARS - </b>None <br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"BIOSPHERE"