Consider Your Space Ambitions Squashed With ‘Assassinaut’ (BUFF 2019)

by Rachel Bellwoar

The night before Sarah (Shannon Hutchinson) is set to go into space, she’s late for dinner trying to dissect a frog. In the moment, you admire her dedication. Later, it feels like desperation.

Johnathan Newport, Yael Haskal, Shannon Hutchinson, and Jasmina Parent

A lot of fuss is made in Assassinaut about this being the first time a group of kids has been sent into space (a plan made more viable when you realize they won’t be manning a rocket but sent over a transporter to the presidential space station) but the real fuss should be that they’re being sent there without any training, having met each other for the first time the day they’re blasting off. Assassinaut is the story of how this trip goes wrong. After a terrorist breaks aboard the station, shoots the president (Irene Santiago), and sets off a bomb, the kids are sent packing in a pod for the nearest, unexplored planet. Now their mission is to find the president’s pod and see if she survived the journey, and the assassination attempt.

Jasmina Parent

Directed and written by Drew Bolduc, my main problem with Assassinaut is it that it lays the groundwork for more storylines than it pursues. Sarah’s father (Jeffrey Alan Solomon) was an astronaut, too, but you never hear anyone talk about Sarah being a legacy or having worked with her father before. She tries to ask him questions about his experience over dinner – why did he stop going on missions? did he miss going to space? – but he dodges almost all of them. Men can be taciturn, but if there’s something his daughter should know before heading into space herself, I’d like to think he’d break his silence and warn her.

While it’s fair that the film doesn’t split it’s time, Apollo 13 style, and show the response on Earth to the space station blowing up (assuming they know), Sarah doesn’t so much as get a good-bye scene with her dad or brother (Jack Rouse) and the same goes for the other kids’ parents as well.

Then there’s the Commander (Vito Trigo), who we meet ten years earlier, during the film’s opening sequence, killing someone important. He’s the last person you expect to see in charge of protecting these children and it’s an opportunity for the film do a redemption arc or, if he’s evil, let viewers in on the danger he poses in advance, but it doesn’t take off the way that it should.

Visually, the film benefits from its low budget (the costumes are especially refreshing in their minimalism and I appreciated that when the kids were eating lunch, their uniforms hadn’t been issued yet, but their lunch trays were already color-coded to match). Sarah talks about having always dreamed of becoming an astronaut and the adventures she’d have (in one of these dreams, space looks like a spaghetti western with mascara). These expectations are checked almost immediately. While the young cast endear you to their plight, they’re not meant to have known each other long, so the bonding feels rushed and the emotional fallout impaired. Assassinaut gave itself openings to go deeper. I wish the film had, because the potential’s indisputable.

Assassinaut screened Sunday, March 24th as part of the Boston Underground Film Festival.

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