5.4

Stale Austrian Sci-Fi Rubikon Makes the Apocalypse Feel Low-Stakes

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Stale Austrian Sci-Fi <i>Rubikon</i> Makes the Apocalypse Feel Low-Stakes

The year is 2056. Mega-corporations have polluted Earth to the point where clean breathing air has become all but obsolete. The rich converge in domes with decontaminated oxygen, leaving the poor to suffer. But all hope isn’t lost. Aboard the planet’s remaining space research station is grouchy scientist Dmitri (Mark Ivanir), who has just created an algae-based air filter with the power to make everything back home hunky-dory once again. But just as he’s getting ready to send his elixir down to civilization, the planet is enveloped in a mysterious brown fog that has likely killed everyone. So Dmitri and astronauts Hannah (Julia Franz Richter) and Gavin (George Blagden) must weigh the pros and cons of leaving their little safe haven and flying down to the poisonous cesspool that was once Earth to deliver the algae to any potential survivors. Rubikon sounds like a thrilling Roland Emmerich-style disaster flick, right?

Wrong.

What should be one of the most adrenaline-pinching films of the year has about as much tension as a K-Mart commercial. When disaster strikes, the characters approach the situation with such astounding apathy that you wonder if they even register what is going on. Much of this can be attributed to Richter, who delivers lines about saving the world in such an unaffected deadpan that it doesn’t seem like she believes a word she’s saying. This, and she hardly so much as furrows a brow—even when she learns that her sister is possibly dead.

But Rubikon’s dire lack of energy and stakes can also be blamed on the script, penned by debut feature director Magdalena Lauritsch and co-writer Jessica Lind. A majority of the dialogue comprises dead space and unrelated conversations, as opposed to discussions about—oh, I don’t know—the end of the world. The achingly aimless script never even really bothers to clarify what exactly happened planetside to kick off this apocalyptic disaster. When, in the third act, two characters get into a climactic scuffle about the future of humanity, we’ve already been so deeply worn down by a film that has been begging us not to care. This goes for the entire third act, which—with its clever twists and chilling final shot—still ends up being the best part of the film.

This is a shame, because Lauritsch and Lind touch on some innovative philosophical inquiries. Is the world worth saving if the only people in it are those who view you as less-than? Is a life lived in isolation a worthwhile one? And what does intense isolation do to a person? (Not that, in 2022, that question would be on our minds at all.)

To their credit, the duo finds a gripping reflection on humanity amidst the rubble of their indifferent script. (Lauritsch said the film is her answer to climate change and the European refugee crisis, and later metamorphosed into a comment on COVID, too). This fascinating core, alongside Rubikon’s unique premise, should have produced some fascinating sci-fi a la Moon or Solaris.

And to be fair, a lot of Rubikon’s defects can also be attributed to its lack of budget, the bulk of which most likely went to the film’s fleeting moments of CG. The stage—sorry, spaceship—is nothing more than a group of cliched silver rooms with oddly outdated computers. And while bare-bones sets suffice for some films—particularly philosophical meditations like this one—the clean staginess of Rubikon makes it nearly impossible to immerse oneself in its world.

This is only Lauritsch’s first feature and, given Rubikon’s refreshing premise and stimulating philosophies, I have hope for what she produces next. Next time, though, she should have her actors read their lines with at least an ounce of passion and figure out how to treat the end of the world like the end of the world.

Director: Magdalena Lauritsch
Writers: Magdalena Lauritsch, Jessica Lind
Stars: Julia Franz Richter, George Blagden, Mark Ivanir
Release Date: July 1, 2022


Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.