After a deadly virus wipes out most of humanity, the survivors are forced to wait in self-sustaining bunkers with a networked video interface for communication, but one by one, they start mysteriously disappearing.
William Gregory Lee
Domain is a psychological thriller with plenty of sci-fi thrown into the mix.
It held its Utah premiere at the 4th Annual Filmquest Film Festival in Provo, Utah.
Here’s the skinny:
Seven varying people (and their widely varying personalities) from different parts of the US (all named for their locations; i.e. Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, etc.) are in well-equipped, high-tech underground bunkers, following a devastating apocalypse via deadly disease. It was a lottery for those who were able to get into these units. And all across the country, folks are randomly assigned to groups of six other people (seven total) and this is their social outlet as they await the hopeful go-ahead that the disease has dissipated and the air above-ground is now breathable. Naturally, after over five years together (virtually), relationships have been formed, enemies spawned and a dreaded cabin fever has set in. When the group votes to disconnect one of their members, several other things begin to happen, and there will be no “turning off” from all that awaits this group. Domain refers to the communication system the inhabitants utilize.
It’s a well-rounded cast of gifted actors. Many are recognizable, but the first person I placed was Nick Gomez (from season three of The Walking Dead), taking on the role of Houston.
Britt Lower appears as our main character – Phoenix. We get a good deal of history for this character, and it’s nice information to have in our hands once the film’s climax appears. Lower is a natural actor – deftly handling every emotion which the script throws at her. She’s likable and Phoenix is no-nonsense. She’s an easy way into the story.
Other stand-out work comes from Lower’s frequent scene partner Ryan Merriman (as Denver). He’s probably most recognizable to horror freaks from his work in Halloween: Resurrection. Despite their distance, Phoenix and Denver have developed a loving relationship. And it’s a solid and believable chemistry between the two actors – via a computer screen. For fear of saying too much (spoilers!) I’ll just make note that Merriman gets to play with several varying emotions, and he properly hits all of those levels.
But whom do I love the most? One of my all-time favorite character actresses (Beth Grant of everything!) appears as Domain’s creator, Nadine (in an inspired promotional/instructional video which the survivors have access to). Her presence in any film automatically brings a smile to my face, and her performance in Domain is no exception.
Naturally, there is a twist in Domain. And while I wasn’t genuinely surprised (the clues don’t knock you over the head with obviousness, but they’re certainly there) it’s still effective in the way such ‘70s classics of this ilk are (Logan’s Run, Soylent Green). Much of that credit goes to Beth Grant (who was sadly un-nominated at Filmquest for Supporting Actress in a Feature) for softening the less-than surprising reveal with an honest portrayal.
I frankly wondered how the characters were able to resist questioning their surroundings for such a long time. When things start to go wrong, that’s when they begin to notice things and then investigate. After five years – I found it a little hard to believe that they were so content – even in light of the danger on the surface – that they did not go stir-crazy earlier and attempt to get out in a fit of cabin fever.
The visual effects are pretty awesome. All of the many screens which each resident must use, are detailed and seamless and properly futuristic. Obviously that credit goes to the production designer, but a shout-out of “kudos” must go to the actors as well. After five years of the characters using this system, there is thankfully never an issue of the actors not selling their familiarity with this technology. Small things to point out – but in a world like this, technology is just part of the character’s everyday routine – and it never felt forced, rehearsed or disingenuous.
The set designs in each of the character’s units are almost identical. It makes me wonder how they shot the film – perhaps just switching up details and moving the actors in and out of one set to prepare for the next person. Or were they all in different sets and actually communicating through the “Domain system”? Being recorded in their separate “bunkers”? Hmmm… However they did it, it couldn’t have been terribly simple. But again, I’ll use the word seamless.
And speaking of seamless…
It’s a wonder why the film was not nominated for Best Editing in a feature at Filmquest – considering the amount of back and forth going on between our seven characters. In fact, it should have won the honor! It could not have been easy to so perfectly combine the seven characters – and their consoles with the other characters (all of them) on-screen. But they managed to make it all so seamless (I’ll never use that word again — happy?)
The film won only one award at Filmquest: Best Production Design/Art Direction (deservedly so). It was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Feature for Britt Lower, Best Ensemble Cast in a Feature, Best Feature Cinematography, Best Costumes in a Feature and Best Visual Effects for a Feature.
I’ll take a moment to disagree with the Filmquest judges. I think awards for Best Editing in a Feature and Best Ensemble Cast in a Feature were in order. And again, at least a nomination for the wonderful Beth Grant.
And finally… despite the life-threatening epidemic on the surface, the gross powder the inhabitants mix with water (their food!), these bunkers are pretty swanky. Modern fixtures, comfy beds, people who practically have to be your friend. Heck, sign me up!
With a fantastic ensemble cast, the priceless presence of character actor Beth Grant, superb production values and a good (not great) twist ending, Domain is an easy recommendation.
The film is still on the festival circuit, so no wider release information is yet available.