Astral Movie Review
Written by Simret Cheema-Innis
Released by Vertical Entertainment
Directed by Chris Gul
Written by Chris Gul & Michael Gul
2019, 83 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released on 31st January 2019
Frank Dillane as Alex Harmann
Catherine Steadman as Claire Harmann
Vanessa Grasse as Alyssa Hodge
Trevor White as Gareth Powell
Darwin Shaw as Joel Harmann
Astral might as well be an advertisement for the perks and potential disadvantages of astral travel, also known as an 'out-of-body experience'. It can be an exciting prospect having the capability to step out of one’s body and enter the astral plane; venture out of the physical world into one more ethereal, thus venturing outwards and into other dimensions.
In the case of university student Alex Harman (Frank Dillane), the subject of astral travel quickly captures his attention, with curiosity becoming an overnight obsession in order to find answers to unresolved childhood trauma.
A strained relationship with his father also helps establish the truth behind the mysterious death of his mother, which further escalates his need to seek more answers and subconsciously connect with something greater than his physical being.
Gathering as much information as he can during a parapsychological/occult library binge, and a borderline cringe-worthy conversation with his lecturer about astral travel, Alex prepares for his out of body voyage into the countless other planes of existence. It takes him a couple of tries to realise that it’s worked and he soon convinces his friends of his new abilities.
Unfortunately for Alex, a video recording reveals a dark shadow has entered his space, and later on his flatmates begin to see the shadows. It appears that Alex has opened a gateway to the spirit world, with shadow people feeding on his fear as they try to take over.
Director Chris Gul has taken a naturalistic approach to this film in his casting choice. Performances are never overacted as such, although dialogue between characters when in a group can seem slightly awkward, staged or just very careful. This is all in the way scenes have been scripted, and perhaps the choices in the edits. After all, when several people are engaged in conversation, there are many characters who have a voice, but how it’s shot or cut makes a big difference to the pacing and believability of scenes.
The narrative is direct, driving straight to the point, the foreshadowing is predictable, but the simplicity and attraction to Alex’s story grabs the viewer. Dillane plays the arcane, sexy, dark yet empathetic student well. His story is believable, his trauma shrouding him in mystery. Dillane’s Alex is the perfectly brooding young artisan student with his passion and darkness. Gul made a good choice in choosing his lead.
Gul takes the very basic theory of astral travel, which works well for western culture’s idealised perception. There are countless views on both the astral form and the planes of existence, Hindu, Shinto, and even Christian.
That said, Gul manages to spin a feature length film out of this, which is very engaging. The downside is the simplicity doesn’t delve deep enough into the more enthralling aspects of what can go wrong in an out-of-body experience. There’s a glimpse into the subject of sleep paralysis and shadow people. In fact, it’s something I experience twice a year, when experiencing sleep paralysis, a dark shadow entity tries to suck the breath out of my body. There’s of course many spiritual and psychological explanations for this, but the link with sleep paralysis and astral travel is one that could have been investigated further.
Towards the end, clichés crop up rapidly with the emergence of a spirit medium psychic, then, for balance and objectivity’s sake, a parapsychologist whose appearance seems like rushed affair. The séance is haphazardly thrown into the mix, but is interesting with the use of tarot cards, a pendant and a Ouija board; conjuration, invocation and divination all in one. Gul pulls out all the stops causing a storm in the room with perhaps a thought process of ‘I WANT IT ALL.’ Fair play as it is enjoyable despite the predictable moments.
Astral is a well-crafted film. The premise of the story set around autumnal university grounds gives the film a classic British ghost-story aesthetic. The narrative unravels as if it was perhaps written as a short story which is why, despite its safeness in structure, it works consistently from start to finish.
If you want a peephole into the world of astral travel, not to mention guidelines and warnings, then definitely watch this movie. I know I’ll be getting my crystals and pendant out in a conscious attempt at a later date.
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