Writer/Director Nathaniel Atcheson’s indie science fiction thriller Domain takes place almost entirely in underground in bunkers, which is every bit as claustrophobia-inducing as it sounds. The movie starts off with news audio about a global virus pandemic that’s going to wipe out most of us. A few designated lottery winners are going to survive underground. Once the audience gets a glimpse of the nutrient shakes the survivors have to subsist on they’re likely to wonder if survival was actually the better option. The survivors’ only human contact is communication with each other via Skype-like video screens. They act as though they actually have some semblance of a society, but it quickly becomes clear that each of these people is completely alone in their own bunker. And then some of them begin to disappear.
As promising as that sounds, Domain doesn’t build up the initial intensity or momentum needed to power a truly riveting thriller. Atcheson makes the most of his small production, and his largely unknown cast is sincere and convincing. Britt Lower (Sisters, TV’s Man Seeking Woman), as “Phoenix,” certainly demonstrates she can handle heavy lifting. Nick Gomez as “Houston,” Ryan Merriman as “Denver” and Kevin Sizemore as Orlando are solid.The character nicknames are a tipoff that the characters are types more portraits, and that’s a road sign as to where the movie is going. The audience is likely to figure out early that there’s something more going on here, and that something more is actually the point of the movie.
Atcheson, who worked as an assistant editor on Man Seeking Woman, which starred Britt Lower, does a lot with a little visually, but the premise is ultimately more suited to a Twilight Zone episode than a feature. No spoilers will be given here, but this is a punchline story, and the meandering second act doesn’t build enough suspense to support the climax. Atcheson and his cast are worth watching, though, and it’s a nice change of pace to see a movie that looks bigger than it is, than the all-too familiar spectacle of a mega-budget that makes you wonder where it went.
Domain opens in theaters on September 28th, 2018.