BIOSPHERE

★★★★

LIFE FINDS A WAY

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Charlie David Page
12th June 2023

Imagine you get to pick one person to spend the rest of your life with on this planet. Just one person. For years and years. Until the end of your life. Now, imagine you both living in a room 10 metres wide by 10 metres long, that holds everything you possess, and leaving even for an instant would cause certain death. That's the premise behind the new film 'Biosphere' - the funny thing is, it's a comedy... mostly.

Billy (Mark Duplass, Apple TV+'s 'The Morning Show', 'Safety Not Guaranteed') and Ray (Sterling K. Brown, TV's 'This Is Us', 'Black Panther') are both survivors of an apocalyptic disaster - in fact, Billy was the U.S. president and may have been the one behind the apocalypse, while Ray is the reason for their survival, having built a self-sustaining dome for them to live in. The world outside their bubble is dark and offers little hope of a future - but when a chance to change their existence does present itself, will either of them be willing to accept it?

This is a really hard review to write - in fact, possibly the hardest I've ever written, due to the fact that the events after the first ten minutes or so are what really start to make the film interesting. The premise of having two people stuck in one location for the entire movie (without any techniques like flashbacks to rely on) is a perilous one, and it runs the risk of becoming extremely theatrical, or stagnant. Fortunately, neither of these happen, thanks to the crafty handiwork of first-time feature director Mel Eslyn (who co-wrote the script with Duplass), and her cinematographer Nathan M. Miller and art director Christine Brandt. Without day and night outside, time is expressed through automated lighting in the dome, and the set itself is constructed in a way that's very open and can be shot from almost any angle - in fact, the very first time we meet Ray and Billy is a minutes-long Steadicam shot as they run around the perimeter of the dome, getting their daily exercise.

SWITCH: MEL ESLYN 'BIOSPHERE' INTERVIEW

There are, of course, two more people who are key to keeping the film together and coherent - Duplass and Brown. Wow, what a stellar pairing. Here they're both playing opposites in perfect synchronicity, Billy the screwball who can't handle change and Ray the reliable, optimistic scientist (which may not be a total stretch from their real personalities - Eslyn relayed to Sydney Film Festival audiences a story of how Brown would come to set well-rehearsed and regularly get annoyed because Duplass would go off-script). With a running time past the 100-minute mark, a lack of chemistry between the only two people you see the entire time would have been a very easy failure for this film. The dynamic they have - best friends their entire lives - is entirely believable, and convinces you thoroughly that these are the only two people on the planet who could survive for years in a sealed space the size of your living room. In all honesty, I could have watched them on-screen together for another 100 minutes.

What's really fascinating is the sandwich we're served in this film. There are some pretty heavy topics presented - at a Sydney Film Festival screening, Eslyn (who herself is a queer woman who grew up in the U.S. Midwest) brazenly revealed the use of two bigger names and the use of comedy in order to deliver the message. Perhaps for an Australian audience, it's less of a contentious issue, or becoming less so (though we did have at least one walkout in our screening), but there's no question that two very charismatic actors and a whole lot of cleverly-written dialogue and plot points make this an enjoyable experience.

With a running time past the 100-minute mark, a lack of chemistry between the only two people you see the entire time would have been a very easy failure for this film. The dynamic they have - best friends their entire lives - is entirely believable.

While Eslyn and Duplass are long-time collaborators, this idea was originally a one-sentence pitch from Mark - that is, until he felt the concept didn't have the legs and he left it with Eslyn to develop if she could. What blossomed was clearly something beyond even what he could imagine - and as a homage, Duplass threw some affectations of his own into the script. Eslyn revealed to the Sydney Film Festival audience he often calls her his "Luigi" and his "secret sauce" - two terms Billy repeatedly uses to reference his presidential adviser Ray.

As far as buddy comedies go, 'Biosphere' is one of a kind. It's unpredictably outrageous, in the best way possible. As a comedy, it's one of the most unique and preposterously gleeful cinematic experiences you'll ever experience. As a statement, it's cleverly handled and offers just enough levity among the silliness to open up some serious conversation. To say more would be a sin - the experience of taking it in with absolutely no clue of what's to come is half the fun.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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