With Solis, British writer-director Carl Strathie made an ambitious, character-based space opera. Here, he turns to slightly more earthbound science fiction – though still looks to the stars as much as to the dark inside – and makes a fair fist of turning a stretch of England into archetypal Pennsylvania backwoods.
In a 1982 prologue, an extended, mostly happy family suffer a great loss – the disappearance of eight-year-old Maisie Anderson (Bridget Doherty). A year later, the kid is still missing and the family are fractured. Dad (Mel Raido) is sleeping on the couch, Mom (Laura Fraser) is narrow-focused on the absent child, a sheriff brother-in-law (Grant Masters) is wracked with guilt, the remaining brothers (Sid Phoenix, Spike White) are angry and resentful, and even a calm aunt (Alice Lowe) is distracted. Gathering at the family home after a service honouring Maisie on the anniversary of her disappearance, the stage is set for a drama of recrimination and bitterness … but then UFO phenomena impinge, as lights in the woods, mysterious mental blanks, powderkeg search parties, and a degree of time-twisting evoke alien encounter/abduction dramas, with nods to Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, Communion, Fire in the Sky and a whole panoply of X Files.
Has Masie been snatched by aliens? Or are there other predators in the woods? Strathie plays out the mystery as everyone in the household gets to disclose secrets, which suggest that the darkest purposes are human rather than those of anal-probing, mind-wiping ETs. It’s a paranoid, edgy domestic drama built around a terrific, raw performance from Fraser – though one key bit of plotting defaults to the sort of obviousness found in 1970s TV mystery movies (to be blunt, one character wears a hat that might as well have ‘not to be trusted’ written on it). The alien intervention is powerfully conveyed, and a refusal to overexplain – are these even aliens or some other manner of non-human being? – makes for unsettling, nerve-stretching trips into the woods.