Astral is Chris Mul’s answer to The Exorcist in a modern tale of the horrors of astral projection. Now on VOD and in theaters.
As a kid, horror films were never really my forte. My cousin tried to get me to watch one and I just couldn’t stomach it. As I’ve gotten older, and I am more wise about the world that surrounds us, I’ve become more curious about the genre, especially those that relate to religion.
In fact, one might say that Chris Mul’s Astral is in line with another favorite of mine, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Astral has an artist’s flair about it, using the illusion that something is happening off screen while our cast reacts to it, even if it becomes rote. In this film, Frank Dillane plays Alex Harmann, a university student who seems detached from the rest of his world.
Mul paints a very vivid note to open the film as Claire Harmann (Catherine Steadman) reacts to sounds emanating from the second level of their home, leading to her rather violent death. Years later, Alex who has become distant from even his father begins to have the same premonitions following a lecture on our awareness as beings, and each species’ awareness of the environment surrounding them. The lecture was the best part of the film, simply because the students debate the merits of the spiritual world.
The lecture, by professor Gareth Powell (Trevor White), sparks an interest in Alex to explore astral projection. Mr. Powell is reticent to fully disclose his past attempts for fear that it might get out. But, eventually, Alex finds the right connections to be able to perform an out-of-body experience.
The first time he attempts it, was actually quite fascinating because the story sets Alex up with a web camera capable of recording the event. As we get deeper in to the film, the events get weirder and weirder, and not necessarily in a good way.
The challenge with most of the Astral’s short 83 – minute run time is that the events in Alex’s journey don’t, or can’t scare us. There’s a tension that does build throughout the movie thanks in part to Frank Dillane’s performance.
A part of the problem is that we spend so much time living inside Alex’s world that, when we get to the first meeting with Dr. James Lefler (Mark Aiken), it is a shock that both parties rebuke one another. The story purports to be three dimensional in relation to what and how humans interpret the world around them. The rebuke, which is one-dimensional, allows the story to continue, even though we’re acutely aware that he is going to be the link to the final stages of the film.
Perhaps that’s Astral’s intent.
Alyssa Hodge (Vanessa Grasse) was a nice touch throughout the film, as a friend to Alex and then, inevitably a lover. I felt, at first that she was a bit cloying, but that’s because Alex wanted nothing to do with anything until he found what he was looking for. It turns out that she was his salvation.
That’s the interesting thing about Astral, by Chris Mul and Michael Mul: it wasn’t until the third act when he finally decided to let her in. I have my suspicions about why that happened, but won’t offer that context here until more people have seen the film. Suffice it to say, that I think what terrorizes each of us the most is what we cannot control.
Now on major VOD platforms and in limited Theaters, Astral is unrated.