Released: 12th April
Seen: 21st November (Lift Off Film Festival)
You know, I get no real joy out of writing a negative review. Sure, it can be cathartic to lay into a film that I felt was offensive or particularly bad but sometimes it feels like I’m kicking a puppy. Sometimes a first-time feature filmmaker makes a genuinely bad film and part of me wants to just ignore it, move on and pretend I didn’t see it… but I did see it and it would feel dishonest not to write about it especially when I have thoughts on it. Just know that this is not exactly fun for me right now, this one I feel bad because I was in the room when the director was asked “Is this a comedy?” and that question should tell you everything about how bad this drama film is.
No Turning Back follows Nick Wilkinson (Joseph Wycoff), an avionics engineer who signed up to be part of an expedition to Mars and he’s been shortlisted and needs to go for training… there’s just one problem though, he hasn’t told his wife Laura (Caroline Muller) or his teenage kids, Max (Kelaan Schloffel-Armstrong) and Rachel (Grace Goulter). With only a few months to go, Nick and his family must deal with the idea that the father of their family lied to them about his plans to go to Mars. Will the family make it through this or will they come apart under the pressure of everything that’s coming their way?
When it comes to first-time indie films, you can forgive a lot. I don’t expect a perfect sound mix (though if you listen carefully you can hear when some vocal tracks on the edit start with a tiny click, someone forgot to fade in) and I don’t expect every shot to be a perfect piece of art. I don’t even expect great performances, I’d settle for perfunctory but we don’t get that. Every performance is bad but in a different way. Some are in the ballpark of what’s needed but come up short, some overact to the point of comic absurdity and some just exist. No performance, except maybe that of the barista who serves coffee in one scene, is believable… and even that one is probably only believable because that might just be the actual barista of the coffee shop they filmed that scene in. With no good performances, it’s impossible to latch onto any of the characters so I have to try to latch onto the story and then we hit another problem.
While this film on a conceptual level is kind of smart, a story about dealing with the eventual loss of a family member, the plot execution is just abysmal. When we’re just dealing with the emotional impact of “You’re leaving us and you never asked us first”, there’s some real potential… but then we get into things like the father-daughter cancer plot that lasts for 45 seconds and comes out of nowhere. This happens near the end and it comes on as suddenly as “I got the results of the test back, I definitely have breast cancer” but with even less payoff than that. Then there’s the subplot about Nick’s daughter from a previous relationship… oh I’m sorry, did I say subplot? I meant scene. In the middle of the film, suddenly Nick’s daughter from his past relationship turns up and they have a little chat and then she’s never in the film again. Do you know why she’s in the film? Well, during the Q&A with the director after this film someone asked about it… he put the scene in there to set up a storyline for a potential Netflix series. I’m not even kidding, this filmmaker thinks this movie is going to be turned into a series and… no. No. For starters, there’s no more story once the main character either goes to Mars or decides not too but second of all, NEVER put major storylines like that into a film in anticipation of a sequel. It’s not a good idea, it kills momentum, raises questions you can’t answer and it was entirely pointless. Entirely Pointless, by the way, was probably the working title for this film.
There’s also this very annoying element where the film seems to believe it’s smarter than it actually is. It’s deep, you see, and it’s making important points about the future of the planet and how sacrifices must be made for the species to survive. Yes, those are important points to make because we are stuffing up the planet… but maybe don’t make all those points and then have a character state out loud how fascinating the discussion of those topics is. That happens during a dinner scene, they talk about all these issues and then praise themselves for having such a great discussion. The points are important to make but you have to make them well, you can’t just have someone blurt out how everything is screwed and then praise yourself for doing it… I mean, you can but it sucks.
It’s stunning how there isn’t a single good thing about this film. Not one thing I can think of that puts it in the recommended column. Maybe if you want something for a bad movie night, this certainly had enough moments where the audience was suppressing laughter that it might work as an accidental comedy but it’s just not good. The concept certainly works, I kind of love the idea of a film that’s being set just before a tragic loss that everyone knows is coming and having to deal with it but the actual resulting film is laughably bad. I didn’t even get to all the glaring issues, from close-ups of texts that were sent at 2:15 pm when it’s meant to be midnight to some of the worst costume design imaginable with the comically bad looking suits that appear to consist of dishwashing gloves wrapped in gaffa tape. There isn’t a single thing about this film that works, either watch it as an accidental comedy or turn back now!