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Emelie Jonsson in the Swedish soul-crusher film Aniara.Courtesy of Mongrel Media

  • Aniara
  • Written and directed by Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja
  • Starring: Emelie Jonsson
  • Classification: R; 106 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

The year is only five months old, yet 2019 has already produced two duelling films whose outer-space settings both act as genre disguises for deeply unsettling tales of existential dread. Given the nature of the zeitgeist, that seems about right. Yet while last month’s Claire Denis drama High Life will go down as one of the year’s ultimate masterpieces, the Swedish soul-crusher Aniara will likely be remembered as an ambitious if ultimately weaker curiosity: the Antz to Denis’s A Bug’s Life (a sentence I never thought I’d be able to employ, but here we are).

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Open this photo in gallery:

Aniara will likely be remembered as an ambitious if ultimately weaker curiosity: the Antz to Claire Denis’s A Bug’s Life.Courtesy of Mongrel Media

Adapting Harry Martinson’s epic 1956 poem of the same name, first-time directors Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja craft a horrifying tale about what happens to the inhabitants of a giant Mars-bound spaceship after the vessel is thrown off-course. What started as a 23-day voyage turns into an endurance test of months, then years, then decades, then more. Yet as the ship’s guests and staff seek comfort in sex and violence, Kagerman and Lilja stop short of conjuring a bracing or even halfway original vision.

Any novice student of dystopia culture can guess where things will end up (hint: nowhere good), meaning that it’s the journey to hell that ultimately matters. In Aniara, it’s a depressing and toxic expedition – just not a particularly enthralling one.

Aniara opens May 17 in Toronto.

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