Big Sky (Phase 4 Films, NR)

big-sky 75From an entertainment standpoint, Big Sky falls short.




Big-sky 500

Big Sky is about a teenage girl with an extreme case of agoraphobia—the fear of the environment’s vast openness. Hazel (Bella Thorne, TV’s Scream, The Duff) is on her way to a treatment facility when the van is attacked by masked gunman and she must conquer her fear to get help.

From an educational standpoint, Big Sky is a good depiction of just how incapacitating an anxiety attack can be, and how even after being forced to confront it, the phobia remains.

From an entertainment standpoint, Big Sky falls short. The film moves at a painfully slow rate—it’s only an hour and a half long but feels like twice that by the time it is finished. Big Sky has very few major plot points, and it is nearly impossible to discern the purpose of the vast majority of the scenes.

Writer Evan M. Wiener has a solid outline of a story here, but he misses a lot of opportunities. For example, there are three other patients in the van besides Hazel, all of whom could have had a back story, input into Hazel’s journey, or really any purpose at all beyond taking up a seat in the van for five minutes of the film. Screen time is wasted on these characters who appear and say a few words but never propel the story forward. One of the characters is even kidnapped, but we are never told the plan of the kidnappers. Are they holding the teenager for ransom money? Will she have a connection to our main character, Hazel?

Big Sky is basically the same series of images over and over again for an hour and a half: we cycle between the gunman as they struggle to form a plan, the characters remaining in the van, and Hazel as she travels through the desert in search of assistance.

The slow pace of the film makes sense because of Hazel’s disorder—although she only has 5 to 6 miles to travel, she must move incredibly slow, looking only at her feet, and stop frequently due to the sensation of drowning and needing to steady her breathing. However, this pace makes the rest of the characters’ actions completely unrealistic. The gunman should have been able to notice and correct their error of leaving any survivors in half the time of Hazel’s journey. It’s also pretty unbelievable that any character who was wounded in the beginning of the film could stay alive for even half of Hazel’s journey without any medical attention.

I will give credit to director Jorge Michel Grau for how Hazel’s fear is depicted in the beginning of the film—no one ever comes right out and says that she has agoraphobia, but rather we are given various cues through Hazel’s actions and the setup of her bedroom. This is a very nice touch, offering an air of mystery to the audience as we try to decipher her problem, and then later in the film our inquiries are verbally validated.

In addition, there is a great use of flashback whenever Hazel has a panic attack. We are shown what she sees as she imagines herself drowning in a pool, intertwined with flashes of childhood memories. I would have liked to see more flashbacks used, particularly with the other characters riding in the van, to break up the monotony of desert we see the entire film.

I won’t say Big Sky is terrible, but it is certainly only a small fragment of what it could be. The filmmakers were on the verge of something here, but they just didn’t get there. | Samantha LaBat

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