A nightmare-fueled time-traveling plot unravels in Shahin Sean Solimon’s new film, Nebulous Dark, a sci-fi movie about the world’s last human man as he wakes from deep sleep to find the Earth has been conquered by aliens. This sounds pretty straight forward for a plot, but this is only how I could fully understand the film after watching it and reading the synopsis again. If you were to watch Nebulous Dark after only seeing the trailer, as I did, you would find an almost surreal, nihilist nightmare of a film that I can’t tell if it’s poorly edited and poorly written, or if it’s actively trying to attack the viewer on a subconscious level. What I was left with was an art piece that genuinely intrigues me and is unintentionally funny, by a film that takes itself incredibly seriously.
I’m getting ahead of myself, it must be from all the time travel I endured while watching this film. I will try to restart my review much like the film’s main character, Captain Apollo, does. We follow Captain Apollo through what looks like a wasteland somewhere in the world, its location is never clearly stated, as he tries to figure out what it is exactly that he is supposed to be doing in the plot. We watch as Apollo starts, dies, and repeats the same day in different ways with only him stating how confused he is or how he doesn’t remember where he is. There are sequences of where he shoots zombies and dies, meets a robot and dies, meets a bearded man in an Asian conical hat with a robot voice and dies, arrives at a diner where other survivors are waiting for him who all die by zombies, meets a woman who says she met Apollo before in a different time and then they die together. Each of these moments would feel more compelling and important if they were told in a more linear style of him clearly dying as he repeats the day and progresses further each cycle. Instead, we are given disjointed and often isolated sequences that don’t culminate into an emotionally earned climatic crescendo at the end.
Now this could very well be intentional. Apollo states in the very beginning, “I hope to God this is just a nightmare.” The scenes are heavily dripping in CGI filters of dark and moody sights that don’t invoke a sense of place but rather emotion. The sound design for character dialogue is tinny and far away. Moments when certain characters talk are processed and warped into a muffle as if we are hearing them through the gas mask Apollo is constantly wearing for no explicit reason, but there are plenty of contextual scenes where you can clearly see that his mask doesn’t even cover his ears. The movie’s musical score is often reused and on repeat in sequences that make moments feel much longer than they are and do nothing to further the plot. Action sequences are long and drawn out through constant use of slow motion, with characters stand statically shooting guns. I am pretty sure I saw the same zombie shoot a gun the same way four different times in the film. My frustration grew into skepticism when I realized I had been only watching 40 minutes of this film and I just found out the lead character’s name was Apollo. Was I the one in the nightmare? The only way I could find out is by continuing deeper into the looking glass.
Dreams and nightmares formulate and reinterpret memories and thoughts in often jumbled and perplexing natures. In one moment, Apollo is cradling a woman who is dying stating that “we failed” in a dry and spooky graveyard. In another, we are introduced to people who I think may have had some emotional importance to Apollo, and their deaths are played in a way that are meant to hurt him, but I am left unfazed. I don’t know, nor do I remember, if I was even told any of their names. Everything in this film is played with a seriousness that refuses any wink or nudge to explain how everything that’s happening isn’t over the top.
Characters wax philosophically about what death is while the film tries to explain how its version of time travel works only at the moment of climax as we watch the colonizing aliens finally trying to stop him. Several of the characters have names of Greek gods that feel important in the moment but don’t hint as to why it matters. The film yells at the top of its lungs that it’s clever, it’s insightful, it matters. I would tend to agree, but not for the reasons it believes. I have never interacted with a film before that deals with how the world ends with a meteor off screen, an alien invasion, time travel hijinks, and robot AI that may or may not be evil all at once, with no real mourning of the humans that have been wiped from the screen.
We watch Solimon as he portrays Apollo in what could be limbo, without any emotion to what it may mean to be truly dead, or while dealing with PTSD and mourning alone the world that no longer exists. I feel like I am discovering who this man is at the same time the movie does. All the concepts presented feel undercooked because there are too many thoughts on the menu.
There is an interesting movie in here if it made a decision of what it would like to be. For people who enjoy these kinds of puzzles or large swing and misses, I would recommend this. But if you are looking for a more traditional viewing of a movie, I would advise you to stream anything else.