Arrowhead1A political prisoner of war in a military labour camp where the inmates are chained and muzzled, former pilot Kye Cortland knows what he must do to survive, even down to shooting his own foot off when the opportunity for escape is presented by the arrival of the former leader of his faction, General Tobias Hatch.

The breakout is not entirely altruistic; having arranged for a new cybernetic limb to replace his lost foot, Hatch explains to Kye that he needs him to obtain strategic information which will help their side win the war by infiltrating an ARW-HD class vessel, Kye familiar with them having flown Arrowheads when he served in the Elite Guard.

Arrowhead2In return, Hatch promises that together they will stage a raid on New Holland and rescue Kye’s father Gray Cortland, another prisoner of war who is scheduled to be executed on the anniversary of Liberation Day as is the tradition of the victors.

The first stage goes according to plan, Kye installed aboard the Arrowhead, but when he emerges from his chamber to infiltrate the ship’s computer he fatally compromises the systems just as they are encountering turbulence, forcing the abandonment of the ship before it crashes even as Kye himself runs for a shuttle.

Arrowhead3On the surface of a desert moon with no company but the laidback Aussie-accented shuttle AI REEF which won’t talk to him about anything useful beyond the basics unless he can provide identification he doesn’t possess, Kye must locate the wreck of the Arrowhead, designated as rendezvous point for any survivors if he is to get off the moon in time to save his father.

Caught in a limbo between wanting to be a science fiction think piece and the need to be a more commercially viable action film, Arrowhead looks impressive, filmed in South Australia’s Painted Desert near Cooby Peedy which has previously hosted such productions as Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and Pitch Black, but shuffles awkwardly in the sand beneath the epic skies, unsure of its direction or purpose.

Arrowhead4A setup which thirty years ago would have starred Rutger Hauer or Christophe Lambert and gone straight to video, beyond the stunning grandeur of the locations, the props, costumes and minimal sets are all convincing and the digital effects are certainly competent, but while superficially similar to Pitch Black it lacks the bite or edge of that low budget classic, nor does it have enough conviction to find its own voice, the existential ambition it harbours underdeveloped and out of place.

The feature debut of writer/director Jessie O’Brien and an expansion of his own 2012 short Arrowhead: Signal, the greatest asset is his leading man Dan Mor, the film equally focused on his intense performance and his sculpted body; while this is a change from the more frequent genre film driven by female flesh it doesn’t make up for the lack of urgency in the muddled plot.

Arrowhead7Tellingly, the most interesting relationship is not between Kye and either of the other survivors he locates, the sympathetic Tarren Hollis (Aleisha Rose, seemingly having borrowed Charlize Theron’s spacesuit from Prometheus) nor the dangerous and unstable Arrowhead security officer Norman Oleander (Iron Sky‘s Christopher Kirby) but with REEF (comedian Shaun Micallef), their dynamic reminding of Sam and GERTY of Moon.

Coming down to one man’s survival skill in an unforgiving environment using only the tools he can salvage, his tight leather pants, body formed muscle compression shirt and perfect tan, there are moments of beauty and interest but the foundation isn’t sufficient to support the weight of the whole, the mystery of the planet and the lost time Kye experiences – first hours, then whole days and weeks – coming together too slowly, and the whole is no match for the brutal simplicity of a game of “who’s the better killer?”

Arrowhead is released on DVD on 22nd February


Arrowhead: Signal can be viewed on You Tube now