A Quiet Place surprised everyone in 2018, grossing almost $200 million and earning franchise status for its audience-pleasing effort. Known best for their work on that film, writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (Haunt) step into the director’s chair and hope 65 is another mid-budget wonder that will blow audiences away. Like that last creature feature, this film focuses on a handful of actors and features almost no dialogue, using little music or audio to goose the audience for big jumpscares. That is about all 65 has to offer, which makes it a disappointment to genre fans hoping for more.
The premise is exciting enough. A pilot (Adam Driver) crash lands on an unknown planet, tasked with surviving long enough to get rescued. The problem? A young survivor is with him, she has no training, and she and Mills don’t speak the same language. Together, Mills (Driver) and Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) have to navigate an unknown terrain with creatures stalking them. Not only do they not know where they are, they don’t know when they are. As a title, 65 is unremarkable, but it partially keeps the secret of dinosaurs in the film. Imagine if Mills’ confrontation with dinosaurs stayed a surprise? A reveal like that could make 65 an event instead of an also-ran competing with Scream VI this weekend.
Trapped back in time, trekking through an unknown terrain filled with dangerous prehistoric creatures, Mills and Koa must find their escape shuttle somewhere in the mountain. The stakes for 65 are high, so why is there a lack of tension? Like A Quiet Place, it features people avoiding monsters, yet the emotional connection is missing. With little to do besides running and hiding, the script deprives the audience of meaningful development. Koa and Mills’ language barrier degrades things even further. There are creative dinosaur attacks (one that involves a hologram is a lot of fun), and at 93 minutes, 65 gets in and out with urgency. Whether the film works for you depends upon your appreciation for Driver’s performance.
Hollywood actors rely on the “one for me, one for them” system to maintain their star power while satisfying the urge for dramatic material. Adam Driver subscribes to several for him and then one for the suits. After appearing in 2019’s Rise of Skywalker, he made Annette, The Last Duel, House of Gucci, and White Noise. Not necessarily the films you’d call mainstream fare. Driver seems a little stiff for something with this premise. The man always turns in stellar performances, and his experience as a former Marine means he always looks the part. Typically projects like this rely on a meat-and-potatoes guy like Gerard Butler to wink through the goofiness. Driver refuses to delve into camp, hoping his authenticity will spread throughout the film. Arguably, 65 would have done better if it leaned into the cheese.
Only going by Mills, the protagonist speaks rarely and carries a big gun. We glean some information in the first scene with Mills and his wife (Nika King) talking over each other. From the backstory, we witness why he isolated himself in space. But then the movie gets coy about his past, acting as if there’s something to unbox when it’s clear to the audience what happened. The film also overlooks the mission that brought them there in the first place.
Due to the shallow script, the film trends to the predictable. So many shows currently feature an armed protagonist ferrying a small companion to safety (The Mandalorian, The Last of Us); 65 needs a hook to stand among the competition. Add the cliché-riddled backstories and one astronomical-sized story element, and you know how the film will end. Fortunately, the tempo keeps things going briskly enough that viewers won’t sit with their frustrations long.
If Jurassic World: Dominion disappointed you, the creature design work here is more scientifically accurate, although underdeveloped. Even operating with a budget almost twenty times that of Haunt ($5 million) has its limits. Another difference between the two stories is Beck and Woods want the dinosaurs to be terrifying. With no sweeping John Williams score to create wonder, Beck and Woods favour blood-curdling screams. Pitting futuristic tech against prehistoric beasts, 65 asks “who are you rooting for?” After the last several years of witnessing social media’s effect on the world, I’m rooting for the dinosaurs, honestly.
In order to viscerally feel Mills and Koa’s fear, you have to relate to them. And the film doesn’t provide those moments. Well, except for one. A defeated Mills sighs, “I’m just very tired” and then Koa reflexively repeats the saying without understanding it. Without expecting it, that particular scene hit close to home. Despite everything that divides us, exhaustion fighting difficult circumstances (hello, last three years) can bring us together. Even if that reason for coming together is to fight dinosaurs.