How does this sound to you: Adam Driver playing a space traveler who crash-lands on prehistoric planet Earth and fights dinosaurs? There's enough wackiness in that basic description to get me onboard with "65," a lean, unambiguous, and all-around fun genre mash-up from the co-writing, co-directing, and co-producing team of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. The film didn't screen early for critics which is usually cause for concern. As it turns out, "65" delivers exactly what it promises.
Best known as the screenwriters of the tension-soaked 2018 horror-thriller "The Quiet Place," Beck and Woods, along with their producing partner, Sam Raimi, take genre ingredients of all kinds and mixes them together into an old-fashioned and surprisingly low-key (at least as low-key as a movie about a man from space fighting dinosaurs can be) stew. It's a bit of science-fiction and a bit of horror. It's a creature feature. It has a touch of character drama. There's even a little B-movie schlock.
Some may be surprised to see Driver lend his sizable star wattage to a modest small-scale genre flick like this. And I can see where fans of his might go into it with bigger expectations than they should. But again, "65" delivers exactly what it advertises -- nothing more and nothing less. It tells a linear story with no big surprises or unexpected twists. That may sound like a knock, but I actually like its simplicity and straightforwardness. I like its indifference to being something revolutionary or groundbreaking. And I like its taut 93-minute frame, which turns out to be all a movie like this needs.
If you haven't already guessed, the "65" in the title is a reference to 65 million years ago "prior to the advent of mankind." Driver plays a pilot named Mills. In a brief prologue we see him with his wife (Nika King) and their young daughter Nevine (Chloe Coleman) enjoying some family time at the beach on a faraway planet called Somaris. We learn Nevine is seriously ill, and Mills has accepted a job at triple his normal salary to help pay for his daughter's treatment. The problem is, the job will keep him away from his family for two years.
We then jump ahead one year. While his passengers and crew sleep in cryo-stasis, Mills pilots their long-range exploratory mission. Things are going smoothly until their ship flies into an asteroid field where they take catastrophic damage which sends them careening toward a nearby uncharted planet -- our Earth some 65 million years ago. The ship breaks apart while entering the planet's atmosphere and violently crash-lands on the forest surface. Mills manages to survive but his human cargo aren't so lucky.
Marooned on a mysterious unknown planet, all alone, and with no means of communication, Mills is content to resign all hope (we later see why he's so quick to give up). But while exploring his strange new surroundings, he comes across a cryo-pod in some wreckage. Inside is a little girl close to his daughter's age -- her vital signs stable. From the ship's manifest Mills learns her name is Koa (played wonderfully by Ariana Greenblatt) and she was traveling with her parents, both of whom were killed in the crash.
At first a reluctant Mills has no interest in taking on a father figure role. He finds communicating with Koa to be difficult (she speaks a language he doesn't understand) and her presence sparks some painful feelings. Yet over time a bond forms between the two wounded souls. Even more, Mills feels a connection to his own daughter through Koa. So he determines to get Koa off the planet. But to do so will require them to journey nearly 10 miles to the top of a mountain where an escape vessel from their ship has landed.
Of course they quickly learn that the planet they're on is full of dangers and threats, many of the prehistoric kind. Soon they're dodging scalding geysers, swatting massive bugs, and frantically running from carnivorous CGI dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes. Mills turns into the fatherly protector, blasting away at Raptors and T-Rexes with his space rifle and ushering Koa to safety. But Koa shows herself to be brave and resourceful. Together, Driver and Greenblatt have a warm chemistry, and they're an easy pair to root for.
Filming took place in the pine-covered hills and hardwood bottoms of Louisiana's Kisatchie National Forest which gives the 65 million-year-old landscapes both an alluring beauty and a forbidding sense of peril. DP Salvatore Totino bathes too many of his images in cold blues and grays, but the overall look is striking. And there's a fun and ferocious variety of dinosaurs thanks to the teams at Framestore and Ghost VFX. It all adds a visual quality to a story that may be pretty light, but that is also very honest about what it is. And frankly, that was enough for me.
82 Cast: Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt, Chloe Coleman, Nika King
Directors: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes