‘Crater’ Movie Review: An Ambitious, But Dull, Sci-Fi Film
Some will say that Disney doesn’t make movies like Crater anymore, and it’s a good thing that it got released on Disney+. I agree. Disney+ has allowed the studio to make films that may not perform well in theatres but with interesting enough ideas to warrant a platform to screen them. It’s absolutely the case with Crater: it contains many mature ideas about life, friendship, and how to process grief. It may be too heavy for small children, but it also gives older kids lessons to learn as they grow up and know more about our life cycle.
However, it’s also painstakingly dull and retreads the clichés of many family movies without shame. The film chronicles the final adventure of Caleb Channing (Isiah Russell-Bailey) and his friends Dylan (Billy Barratt), Borney (Orson Hong), Marcus (Thomas Boyce), and Addison (McKenna Grace) as they visit a crater in the moon during a lockdown.
Of course, hijinks will ensue, which are the film’s weakest parts. The friends inexplicably play a game where they launch themselves with oxygen tanks (???), and we’re supposed to suspend our disbelief and think that someone would be inane enough actually to do this in real life if they were on the moon? Of course, they’re children but live in space with a limited oxygen supply. Read the room! The inevitable happens, and the playful scene becomes a rescue mission to save one of the children by using more oxygen tanks to reach them in their direction.
After that’s over and done with, the movie screeches to a halt as it becomes a quest to find more oxygen tanks to get to the crater. That’s where it starts to become more character-driven and somewhat improves. Russell-Bailey is terrific as Caleb and brings a massive amount of emotional depth to his character. His scenes with his late father, played by Scott Mescudi, are the movie’s best moments and hit much harder when you realize what he did to ensure his son’s future in a better world. Without spoiling anything, I will admit that I did not expect a Disney movie to go this dark and be unafraid to talk about subjects that could be deemed insensitive for young children. However, the movie does it respectfully and thoughtfully without using any of its themes in a way to manipulate the audience.
Russell-Bailey shares great chemistry with his fellow counterparts, most notably McKenna Grace, who recently stole the show in movies like Annabelle Comes Home and Ghostbusters: Afterlife. She delivers another excellent performance alongside Barratt, Hong, and Boyce, who are all very good. The scenes where they ponder about their friendship, knowing that this will be the last time they will all be together before Caleb moves on to Omega (a planet that takes about 75 years to reach), are quite poignant and well-handled by director Kyle Patrick Alvarez, whose previous film, The Stanford Prison Experiment, did not reach the same level of emotional impact as this.
But going from such a difficult film to this likely helped Alvarez shape the film’s mature tone and themes. It’s just a shame that the execution doesn’t feel as urgent as the story Alvarez wants to tell. For starters, the aesthetic and visual effects aren’t particularly compelling. Its central action setpiece, where the kids are stuck in the middle of a meteor shower, fails to impress visually and in storytelling. The same can be said for the reveal of what is inside the crater. You can tell that the filmmakers want to push the movie over the edge, but the visual limitations prevent them from doing so.
It also doesn’t help that, for a family film, its pacing is horrendously slow. This helps to soak in some of the more heavy-handed aspects of the story, but it doesn’t necessarily want to engage audiences in the material and with the characters as they reach the crater. And don’t get me started on that total cop-out of an ending. Unfortunately, there are major spoilers that I don’t want to talk about. I’d rather you experience the movie for yourself, but I do feel that the ending will split audiences right down the middle.
Some will enjoy Crater, and that’s great. Some will enjoy certain aspects and may not like other elements from it. I am in that category. It is an audacious film from a storytelling perspective, and for Disney to do something like this, but it’s also vapid in its pacing and visual effects. Its ending is also painfully unimaginative and removes the previously established dramatic tension, even if the performances from its cast are all great. With a better visual style and a faster pace, it could’ve been one of Disney’s better movies, but alas. It’ll only be remembered as another dot in the ever-growing algorithm of Disney+.
Crater is now available to stream on Disney+.