In an age in which the term Black Mirror has quickly become the shorthand for neat self-contained cautionary sci-fi tales, The Titan sits as something of a welcome and high-brow twenty-first century take on the body-horror exploits of Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly. In fact, imagine if the Syfy channel (on one of their better days) had set about actually remaking The Fly with aliens, then (because, better day) handed their script to a director and cast desperate to stretch their arthouse muscles. What you’d wind up with is The Titan. And the result is pretty damned good.
An actor who rarely inspires anything close to enthusiasm, Sam Worthington admirably steps up to the plate here with what could easily be the most intriguing performance of his career thus far. The war hero father figure of a family committed to saving humanity from dying at the behest of Earth’s dwindling eco-system, he’s a volunteer for a secretive government program tasked with effectively terraforming astronauts so that they can go on to colonise Saturn’s otherwise inhospitable moon, Titan. As anyone who’s ever been in moderate proximity to the sci-fi genre will tell you, however, proceedings rapidly go pear-shaped – with Worthington’s transformation soon pushing him biologically further and further away from his family, and the human race altogether, until his very existence could well threaten those around him.
As with The Fly, the intrigue of The Titan is drawn not by knowing how far our lead’s transformation will go, but largely in the handling of how he processes each stage of his mutation along the way. There’s a sympathetic air to Max Hurwitz’s screenplay that keeps the emotional investment of this would-be monster-movie aligned perfectly alongside its colder and more clinical sense of progression – a balance that a well-rounded supporting cast maintain expertly. Tom Wilkinson, for instance, makes an otherwise matter-of-fact authority figure and antagonist strangely investible, with emerging star Agyness Deyn very much towing the line as a scientist torn between her ethics and duty. Against this, though, is Orange is the New Black star Taylor Schilling, whose strangely nineties-era spouse figure may not make for the new Geena Davis in likability, but more than compensates in the sense of maintaining her own agency throughout.
German director Lennart Ruff though appears to be the lynchpin keeping it spinning nicely. The Titan constantly threatens to venture off into goofier terrain, with Ruff and his cast leaning so hard against the inate silliness of it all that they actually succeed in pushing it back into the realm of straight-faced cautionary sci-fi fare. It’s an admirable achievement given diminished production values and an inherently silly concept, and yet The Titan not only holds itself together nicely, but manages to become genuinely gripping to boot. Its third act (incidentally, ruined by even its least showy trailer) may descend into far more mundane militarised theatrics, but with a careful eye in Ruff and a cast firmly set on how they want their tale to flow, The Titan’s an intriguingly stripped-down body-horror tale with more than a few brain cells to spare.
The Titan is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, April 13th; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.