Life, as Jeff Goldblum says, finds a way.
Director Mel Eslyn’s Biosphere was a surprise late add to the TIFF line-up just days before the official start of this year’s festival. With only two public screenings, audiences were asked, nay, begged, not to give away any of the plot’s details because, as it turns out, simply describing what the film is about is a huge spoiler.
Armed with only a vague description via TIFF, Biosphere is ostensibly about Ray and Billy, the last two men on earth (Sterling K. Brown and Mark Duplass) who, when faced with a crisis that threatens their survival inside a bio-dome, must adapt and evolve in order to ensure humanity’s survival.
Giving away anything beyond that simple premise would be doing a disservice to any potential viewer. Having seen thousands of movies, it is not often I am able to say I was genuinely surprised at the turns this story takes. If there is anything to be said about Biosphere, it is certainly that it will surprise viewers with every unexpected turn.
To say the script itself is a surprise would be a complete understatement. Co-written by Duplass and Eslyn, Biosphere gives the film’s only actors plenty to work with. This is a story that for all its lo-fi sci-fi surprises is shockingly tender, funny, intelligent, and complex. However, clocking in at just under two hours, (and to paraphrase critic Brian Tallerico’s review) the film takes an idea best suited for an episode of Black Mirror and stretches it too thin for its feature-length running time. There are only so many directions a story about two men living in a bio-dome and grappling with a single life-altering event can go in and perhaps would have been best served in the constraints of a single TV episode.
Eslyn, who makes her directorial feature debut with Biosphere has a history with both Mark and Jay Duplass. The president of their production company, Eslyn has served as producer on a number of their projects including The One I Love, Creep 2, Outside In, Blue Jay and Paddleton, among others. She handles the direction well, choreographing Billy and Ray’s life inside the dome without making it feel claustrophobic or soulless.
In a film where each decision comes with an intellectual conversation between the two characters, Biosphere at times feels like a play with its singular setting. It is quite easy to imagine these conversations taking play between two actors on a stage as they explore concepts of humanity, gender roles, identity, and more, all without feeling preachy or judgmental.
Without much else to distract from their performances in the film, Duplass and Brown’s chemistry is evident on screen. A pandemic production that had its cast literally working in a bubble, the actors work seamlessly together to make their relationship after an indiscriminate number of years within the dome fully believable.
While I am not sure if Biosphere is a complete success, it is certainly a unique movie that will stick with you and leave you thinking long after watching. That said, the film is currently without a distributor, making it is unclear when Biosphere will be seen by audiences.
Biosphere screened as part of TIFF 2022, which ran from September 8 to 18. Head here for more from the festival.