The film takes place on a distant desolate moon, where a mercenary is stranded following a daring prison break on a nearby planet. Before long he discovers that he isn't alone and that there is a vicious creature lurking in the shadows. With a sentient computer as his only companion, he begins to learn the true nature of the planet and the horrifying secrets it beholds.
From that synopsis you may conclude that ARROWHEAD is a film that relies heavily on the tropes of the genre, as well as convention and cliché. And you would be correct. Despite the ambitions of O'Brien and his crew, there is no denying that the film is something of a patchwork of influences. From THE THING to PITCH BLACK and PLANET OF THE APES to the most obvious 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY. And yet despite the basic concept and premise being contrived, the importance of this new film lies with it's technical significance.
The film represents a brand of filmmaking that is sorely lacking within the Australian film industry. While it's true that we do often venture into strong genre territory, the sad reality is that we rarely do it without foreign investment and assistance. Jesse O'Brien's ARROWHEAD is a bold cinematic sci-fi that sets the challenge for future filmmakers. It proves that with little money, a lot of talent and a dogged determination, such things are possible right here at home.
I am hesitant to dwell on the film's shortcomings, but for the sake of an honest review I will take a moment to discuss them. Narratively speaking, the film is a mess. Very little of the story makes any sense and I would hazard a guess that multiple viewings will continue to stump viewers. Things happen that seem to contradict established ideas and there is an obvious problem with continuity, which in fairness is masked with a deliberately convoluted plot device. I could feel the whole writing process throughout the film, which made for an unfortunate disconnection with the story. I can't help but wonder whether or not O'Brien knew where the film was heading at the time he was writing it. The other major issue is the film's running time. Despite ARROWHEAD only being 90 minutes long it felt much longer, and it could have done with a 15 to 20 trim. The story stagnates with several unnecessary false-endings and it would have been a much more fluent and cohesive film with a little more restraint.
Nevertheless ARROWHEAD is an amazing-looking film and marks the arrival of an important filmmaker. Jesse O'Brien demonstrates a similar sensibility and technical virtuosity that we saw a decade ago with Neill Blomkamp's debut DISTRICT 9, and there is no question that will likely have the major studios eating out of his hand over the next few years. Having a debut film as visually incredible as this speaks for itself. The accomplishment is colossal and it compensates for whatever shortcomings lie within. I can't wait to see what O'Brien does next.