65 Synopsis: After a catastrophic crash on an unknown planet, pilot Mills quickly discovers he is stranded on Earth…65 million years ago. With only one chance at rescue, Mills and the only other survivor, Koa, must make their way across an unknown terrain riddled with dangerous prehistoric creatures in an epic fight to survive.
Two survivors crash land on an uncharted planet roamed by deadly dinosaurs in the sci-fi actioner 65.
A prehistoric creature feature starring the talents of Oscar-nominated actor Adam Driver sounds almost too good to be true. In execution, 65 never quite captures the peak potential of its compelling elements, but the film still excels at providing a welcomed dose of taut escapism.
I can’t help but respect the old-school, B-movie approach from the writer/director team of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. The duo, who wrote the horror phenomenon A Quiet Place, are one of the few to attempt mean-and-lean sci-fi genre films in a Hollywood marketplace that views them as extinct entities. It’s also an intriguing risk to pursue the dinosaur mythos synonymous with Jurassic Park and its subsequent sequels. The franchise has undeniably made an indelible connection with dinosaur thrills and chills in the cinematic zeitgeist, so much so that few other filmmakers try to venture into its well-trudged lane.
Hot take alert – I prefer what 65 achieves compared to any of the Jurassic Park sequels, especially the dreadful Jurassic World films. The film eschews a grandiose scale and crowded web of ensemble characters for a refreshingly unambiguous embrace of genre movie allures.
It certainly helps to have an actor with Driver’s innate ability to steer the ship forward. As Miles, an emotionally reclusive pilot sentenced to a workaholic existence away from his family, Driver imbues commanding gravitas into a character defined by a seldom few characteristics on the page. A distant family man torn apart by personal tragedies is a commonplace action movie trope, yet Driver always discovers the humanity within Miles’ familiar plights. Moreover, he delivers a true movie star performance – an effort based less on his chameleon-like ability to vanish into roles and more on his sheer force of nature as a performer. Co-star Ariana Greenblatt also leaves a strong impression. She forms lived-in chemistry with Driver in a primarily wordless performance as the crashed ship’s other survivor.
As their first studio-filmmaking directorial effort, Beck and Woods showcase a deft understanding of what makes a genre movie click. The two define an arresting atmosphere built on lingering unease, utilizing shadow-ridden lighting and precise framing to convey the hidden dangers lurking around every corner. While 65 lacks big-budget assets (it had less than half the budget of Jurassic World – Dominion), Beck and Woods never make their financial restrictions a hindrance. I appreciate their constant ingenuity on display, especially in creating a lively, unkempt jungle landscape that fits the film’s prehistoric period to a tee without overdoing it with overpolished CGI.
The duo proves to be equally adept at crafting satisfying action setpieces. From showcasing voracious predators to the larger-than-life Tyrannosaurus rex, 65 delivers the guilty pleasure amusement one would expect from witnessing an endless onslaught of dinosaurs unleashed on the screen. Beck and Woods execute these varied encounters with poised composure, deploying a steady filmmaking hand elevated by a few dynamic stylistic flourishes (gun-barrel POV shots and expressive jump scares are a few highlights).
I don’t want to oversell 65’s strengths, as the film’s simplicity is ultimately a dual-edged sword. I admire Beck and Woods for creating a straightforward screenplay that understands the B-movie pulp their vying to achieve. Unfortunately, their efforts feel oppressively undefined. The film is so breathless in its pursuit of escapism that it essentially leaves character-building and narrative in the dust. A significant lack of texture and personality relegates several of the film’s undernourished narrative dynamics into feeling like tired leftovers borrowed from far superior films. Whether it’s the weightless exposition jargon burdening the film’s opening frames or its laughably unsatisfying conclusion, 65 often puts a bare minimum effort towards its narrative.
There is also an undeniable janky streak holding 65 back. The film’s tightly-wound 93-minute runtime resonated with me as a vision strangled by rigid studio mandates. Clunky transitions, incoherent narrative gaps and other lingering issues showcase a film that was likely butchered during the post-production editing process.
I would compare 65 to a relentless roller coaster ride. The film’s lightning-fast pace and oppressive lack of substance left me somewhat dizzied at times, but the experience still provided an exhilarating yet fleeting thrill ride. For a light Saturday morning matinee, you could certainly do worse.
65 is now playing in theaters.
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