In Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Contacta single woman discovers a radio signal she believes is evidence of extraterrestrial life. Then for the next two plus hours, she fights every single imaginable force to prove herself and the existence of the signal itself. Now, take that scenario and put it into a single room with a ticking clock. That’s it The Antares Paradox.
Alexandra (Andrea Trepat) works for a small SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) group in Spain. One night, she goes into work and finds everything gone wrong, as her equipment’s broken, there’s a huge storm outside, and her father is in the hospital with maybe only hours to live. So, of course, that’s when the thing happens she’s literally been waiting her whole life for: she begins to receive a mysterious signal from space.
That setup alone is intriguing, but writer/director Luis Tinoco gives Alex a ton of additional complications, such as a sister who is guilting her about her father. She’s also got a colleague who is quitting, a boss who’s sleeping during her discovery. And most crucially, there’s only about an hour left before she loses control of the radio telescope that’s receiving the signal. And so Alex must go through all the proper protocols to verify this would-be signal while also battling bureaucracy, calling in every favor she has left, burning bridges, and potentially ruining her entire life just because she believes in this so much.
Along the way, Tinoco continues to cut back to a few powerful framing devices that help contextualize Alex’s motivation. There’s a video podcast she does where she’s posed with some pretty tantalizing questions, along with videos from her ailing father that he recorded in the hospital. These keep coming back to not just ease the film’s intense rising tension, but to remind the audience what the potential of this signal means to Alex, what she’s giving up to be there, and the lengths she’ll go to for it, lengths that the film takes great pleasure in dramatizing.
Besides the basic concept, the other thing The Antares Paradox has in common with Contact is its central question. Contact was very upfront that it was about a battle between science and religion. The Antares Paradox is about that too, but it deals with it much more gracefully. As Alex’s situation gets increasingly dire, and the potential of the signal’s veracity increasingly probable, she’s forced to choose between what’s possible and what’s pragmatic. What in life is actually work sacrificing something for?
The question comes to life in large part because Trepat is fantastic as Alex, showing both childlike wonder at her job’s infinite possibilities as well as deep regret and sadness about the choices she’s made, making, and will make. Alex isn’t a character that actually seems to like herself, but she has a profound belief in what she’s doing, despite what everyone around her says. All of this shows itself in every mannerism of Trepat’s performance—don’t forget, all of this happens in a single room starring one actress.
Alex interacts with other people via video chat or telephone, but it’s for the most part just her in this room. And yet the circumstances, compiled with the editing and music, keep the movie almost unbelievably propulsive. A single-room drama could have easily been stale and boring but, The Antares Paradox is never that. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s basically told in real time like the Kiefer Sutherland show 24, so at every second, you feel her desperation that much more.
If The Antares Project was made by a studio with a big name star in the lead instead of being a tiny Spanish movie with a TV star, it would be in the Oscar conversation. It’s that well made, that effective, and that universal. That it’s also potentially about the universe makes it that much better. The film is destined to be remade on a bigger scale and up to now, it’s my favorite film of Fantastic Fest 2022.
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