Domain Review: This Sci-Fi Mystery Doesn't Add Up
Sci-fi is largely controlled by big Hollywood studios, so if you aren't into Star Trek, or the occasional surprise like Arrival or District 9, you may have a hard time finding something that suits your tastes. That leaves many sci-fi lovers looking to the world of independent filmmaking and what that has to offer in order to hopefully find something more suited to their liking. Nathaniel Atcheson is one such independent filmmaker and his latest offering Domain could help satiate your sci-fi thriller appetite, but that depends on a great many things.
Domain centers on a group of seven people who are isolated in seperate underground bunkers after a deadly virus wiped out the majority of the Earth's population. Their only means of communication is through a video interface, similar to Skype but a bit more fancy looking. After years of the same thing day in and day out, their tiny social ecosystem is shattered as one by one, they all start disappearing and it becomes clear that things are not as they seem.
This is not a big, bombastic blockbuster disguised as a sci-fi movie. This is a very quiet, very simple movie that sort of ultimately works out to be a combination of the first two acts of 10 Cloverfield Lane, coupled with the horror movie Unfriended. The idea, on paper, is definitely worth exploring, even if the whole "virus wiping out humanity" thing has been done an awful lot. That said, Domain does definitely find a pretty interesting way of justifying that as a plot device. The issue in trying to talk about a movie like Domain and explain it to someone who hasn't seen it is that revealing too much would sort of destroy the experience for the viewer and that is especially problematic in this case, because Domain has some issues. So ruining the definitely good parts of the movie would make this really pointless.
As an idea, outside of the way it was executed, this sounds like something well worth exploring but a small, quiet movie without any fancy explosions or distracting CGI monsters relies entirely on the core elements. Story. Performances. Atmosphere. Even music. These things stand out much more when you aren't watching spaceships explode or trying to figure out some complicated time travel scenario. That is where Domain may come up short for some viewers. The performances are mostly fine, but certainly not great. It is a whole bunch of actors who make the viewer say "I know that person from somewhere I think, but I don't know their name." That kind of thing. If this were billed as a SyFy Channel original movie it would probably be award worthy compared to the usually abysmal nature of something like that. So it isn't dreadful at any phase, but it feels like it is missing something. Or a lot of little somethings. It is very middling.
Domain feels like a movie that was made like a meal from good recipe that someone found in a cookbook. But the person making the meal didn't have high-quality ingredients at their disposal, so they made due. At the end of the day, it may not be the five-star meal it could have been, on paper, but your belly is full. For some reason, even with some really intense, seemingly thought provoking ideas and what should be affecting imagery, the movie just doesn't make you think or evaluate the real world in the way that the best sci-fi does. It is also pretty slow to start, which doesn't help. Again, without big action set pieces, pacing is critical. Perhaps this would have been better as a short of some kind as opposed to a 90-minute feature.
Writer/director Nathaniel Atcheson has some good ideas, there is no doubt about that. Sometimes, movies are accused of having too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, and too many ingredients. This movie feels like the opposite. Domain probably would have benefited from a few more quality ingredients and another, perhaps more seasoned, cook in the kitchen to help with the details. Ultimately, Domain isn't something anyone needs to run out and see in a theater, but for die-hard sci-fi fans, it could provide some entertainment as a streaming watch on a weekday evening.