September 2005. Tenerife. Temperatures were way over 40c, and after falling asleep in the afternoon I woke to find I had a bright-red chest. My first proper sunburn. It really hurt.
I’m sharing this story to show that I’ve had direct experience with the power of the sun, so I could really relate to the characters in this film as they risked immediate and complete combustion. No, really.
Oh ok, let’s be serious. Sunshine is set sixty years in the future, and the sun is on its way out. In a last ditch effort, mankind have sent off a team of astronauts strapped to a bomb the size of Manhattan, with the aim to ‘restart the sun’. It sounds like the plot from another ridiculous Hollywood disaster turd. But this isn’t Hollywood. It’s Danny Boyle (director of Shallow Grave, Trainspotting) and Alex Garland (author of The Beach), whose last collaboration brought us 28 Days Later, a grotty horror that made zombies sprint and showed London as a deserted mess. With Sunshine they’ve been handed a bigger budget, but it’s the same talent in the driving seat. Hurrah.
So we still have an abundance of effects, but stuff like a decent story, believable characters and well crafted tension haven’t been forgotten. There’s no inappropriate romance (we’re about to die but let’s pause to talk about our feelings), no paint-by-numbers characters (hello, I will be your token minority for today’s film. I shall also be the first to die), and nobody has a quirky dog. Instead it’s intimate, disturbing and claustrophobic as hell. Proper old-school sci-fi in space. Things get broken so people have to go out and fix them. People go a bit crazy. Situations become utterly hopeless. It’s all good fun.
Boyle’s direction adds a definite edge, and the cast are varied enough without going into stereotype mode. Cillian Murphy, who also ran lots in 28 Days Later, is quietly excellent, making you route for him by emoting through weirdly large blue eyes. Rose Byrne (Troy) is a bit moody, Chris Evans (not the ginger one – it’s the one from Fantastic Four) is surprisingly angry as the sort of jock, and Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger) is a passionate plant, er, woman. Throw in a psycho psychiatrist, a couple of wimp types and a strong but silent captain, then add danger situations. What you end up with is finger-wringing tension as you suspect something bad’s about to happen, and then oh no it is happening. Cue freezing to death, burning to death. Like I said – it’s all good fun.
Amongst all the scary space-horror is also the chance to consider how utterly helpless humans are, more environmental woe and a bit of religious stuff to boot. All in all, a smart thriller. It does get a little garbled towards the end, and at times sticks so close to the rules of a space-sci-fi thriller (ala Alien, Event Horizon etc) that it becomes slightly predictable. But it laughs in the face of Hollywood (it’s British, if you haven’t guessed) and stirs up enough ‘urgh’ to leave a lasting impression in your gut that does take a while to subside.
For having great ideas, intelligent characters and fear-inducing direction, Sunshine brightens up the week with a CF3. Just remember your sunscreen.