The Beyond (2017)

Finding the right kind of craptacular sci-fi movies to watch and blog about isn’t an easy task. What I’m looking for is something that’s either entertainingly bad, or has a core concept that’s either interesting or stupid enough to warrant further examination. I was hoping The Beyond might just meet these criteria, buy sadly, it’s largely just plain dull.

The Beyond (not to be confused with the 1980s Italian horror of the same name) is meant to be a sci-fi horror shot in the style of a documentary. Let’s start by recounting the Netflix description of the movie: “A team of robotically-advanced astronauts travel through a new wormhole, but the mission returns early, sparking questions about what was discovered”.

I think we all know by now that Netflix aren’t great at writing descriptions, but reading this, you might reasonably expect that the mission through the wormhole was going to occur towards the start of the film, perhaps in the first 20-30 minutes. Instead, it doesn’t actually happen until over halfway through this 90 minute feature.

Let’s instead recap what actually does happen. I apologise in advance for any inaccuracies caused by my attention wandering. In the year 2019, a wormhole appears near Earth. After sending through several probes, the space agency of the day decides that there might be aliens beyond the wormhole, and that only a human astronaut can make a proper first contact. However, since the journey would be far too dangerous for a fragile flesh body, the decision is made to use a pioneering new technology that transplants the human brain into a robust android shell – “Human 2.0”.

A large chunk of the film focuses on the development of the Human 2.0. Volunteers are found, and the first test subject is chosen – a man who hates being in a wheelchair so much that he’s keen to upgrade to a new body. Now, I’ve never had to use a wheelchair and I can’t presume to speak for the people who do, but I can imagine that a fair few of them are sick of seeing the “anything is better than spending the rest of my life in a chair” trope.

Anyway, said test subject dies during the procedure, and since for some reason there’s no time to lose, the project has to press on at pace. Some sort of enzyme or DNA workaround is developed that could increase compatibility with the robot body, but only a handful of people are compatible. Since the guy who works in IT, and the astronaut who just came back from a long mission are both deemed unsuitable, it falls to project member Jessica Johnson to undergo the procedure. Even though we all know that she’s going to go through with it, we still have to endure documentary-style film of her deciding whether to do it, and asking that her family be sensitively informed. It turns out that “sensitively informed” means “lying to them that she died in an accident”, but hey-ho.

Jessica is successfully transferred into the Human 2.0 body, leading to the one actually chilling part of this film – at first, her speech synthesiser doesn’t work, and all she can vocalise are incoherent static noises. Just as I was thinking we’d hit the true horror part of the movie, however, everything is fixed, and Jessica 2.0 is surprisingly chill about her new situation. Instead of wordlessly screaming into the void about her transformation, she adapts quickly, and is eventually dispatched off to the wormhole.

Well, it’s been a slow start, but surely, you say, things are about to get interesting now. Five days later, Jessica’s shuttle returns – except according to the memories downloaded from her brain, a lot more time has passed for her. Are her memories of seeing aliens, and possibly a random missing astronaut real, or was it all a hallucination?

Even as the scientists argue over what it all means, the movie decides to throw a nonsensical plot curveball. I wasn’t really paying too much attention at this point, but there looked to be a lot of fireworks onscreen, and for some reason every other planet in the solar system is destroyed and replaced with a new planet. However, the mystery aliens were so moved by their first contact with humanity that they spare Earth, which somehow ends up also acquiring a sister planet, Earth 2.0. Whatever the aliens did also seems to protect the original Earth from any of the gravitational effects of having a new planet show up right next to it, so at least there’s that.

The last few minutes are then spent with people speculating over what will become of Earth 2.0. Is there life on Earth 2.0, they ask, even though green plant life is clearly visible from space. As an aside, suddenly there are enough Humans 2.0 to go and ready the new world for the inevitable colonisation – but who will go? Will we ruin this new Earth as thoroughly as we have the original? Will the nameless aliens be annoyed if we do? These are questions not to be answered here, but anyone who cares can think about them on their own time.

There are three possible story directions hinted at in The Beyond, any of which could have made a good movie. A movie that focussed entirely on the Human 2.0 project could have raised questions about what it means to be human, and how the fragile ego reacts to being put in a metal body. The promised movie about a trip through a wormhole could also have been good, had there been some actual suspense or tension about what they experienced on the other side. As it was, I could hardly bring myself to care about what Jessica saw or what it meant. Even a movie about the appearance of a second Earth, and the reaction it provoked, could have been worthy. Instead, none of these themes are tackled well.

Final Thoughts

The Beyond is a largely dull affair that fails to sustain viewer interest or even settle on a coherent plot. Fortunately, it’s being taken off Netflix in the next couple of days, so the risk of you accidentally watching it is minimal.

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