Existential contemplation is a dangerous element for any screenplay to explore. For every avenue into the abyss you open, a catch or loophole awaits just at the outset. It’s a very dicey proposition, but one worth investing time when a filmmaker strikes just the right angle.
Director Thomas Zellen’s Beyond the Edge (formerly ISRA 88) – working from his own screenplay, along with Jordan Champine – is not working with the same budget or scope afforded to Christopher Nolan on Interstellar. Therefore, his independently rooted film is forced to eschew the spectacle and instead focus solely on the mission at hand: what truly lies beyond the fringe of our universe?
As Beyond the Edge begins, Dr. Abe Anderson (Sean Maher) is already well over a decade deep on his mission to explore the edge of the known universe. Each day has become mundane and habitual as Abe and fellow traveler, Lt. Colonel Harold Richards (Casper Van Dien) manage their lives in polar opposite manners. As Richards fixates on operational protocol, Anderson becomes increasingly imbibed and erratic.
After a random tragedy strikes, timelines begin to converge and combust, challenging the audience to maintain coherence as we bobble in-and-out of a linear path, all while debating where the story is ultimately headed. By the film’s concluding reel, you might even still have a whiff of uncertainty in the air, but there is little doubt you will need time to ponder the outcome.
Does it all work? In many respects, yes. Sean Maher dials up a layer of naïve psychosis that carries us completely in-line with his journey. The isolation and desperation Maher exhibits as Anderson weighs the dire straits of his situation is the very soul of the film, and when asked to hold the screen with his character for lengthy sections, Maher delivers each-and-every time. Van Dien is given far less to do, yet pulls off the cocksure military trope by infusing a sense of insecurity that Richards needed to create a level of relatability.
Where Beyond the Edge struggles some is the pacing. Maher and Van Dien do their best to maintain our vested interest – a random Honeymooners homage being a highlight in absurdity – yet there are several stretches of the film where little to nothing occurs. Whether or not it was a stylistic choice of Zellen’s to submerge the audience in Anderson’s loneliness, it is nevertheless an unwise one that ultimately dilutes the overall impact of the film’s conclusion.
Beyond the Edge offers a Kubrickian feel, solid performances from its main duo – Maher in particular carries the bulk of the film with gusto – and even though the pacing languishes more than a bit during the drawn-out midsection, our eventual destination proves worthy of the trip.
Beyond the Edge is now available on VOD
Starring Sean Maher, Casper Van Dien
Written by Jordan Champine and Thomas Zellen
Directed by Thomas Zellen