Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/26/16 19:06:04

"A nicely done sci-fi one-man-show."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2016 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: A fair number of people with the name of "Rowe" appear in the credits for "Reconnoiter" multiple times each, driving home just how independent a production it was, bordering on trying to make a sort of pre-emptive defense of its smallness. There isn't much way to avoid that, although this one probably deserves more praise for what it achieves than excuses for where it falls short; it's small but intriguing, with the filmmakers getting good results from what they can do.

This particular recon mission is being carried out by a single pilot (Ian Rowe), although tons go just sideways enough that he winds up stranded on an uninhabited planet. Well, uninhabited by biological life forms; though there is evidence that such beings one lived there, all that roams the surface now are their machines, and most of the ones that take notice of the castaway are hostile. Still, these robots point him to a possible way to get a message home, if he can survive long enough.

It's a setting that doesn't need much physical material for much of the runtime, and director Neil Rowe and his crew are pretty excellent at making do. The countryside where they shoot is not likely to be mistaken for any place but rural England - the stone walls and other structures are fairly distinctive - but Rowe makes them feel alien. No bits of terrestrial fauna accidentally sneak into frame, and the noise of mechanical breathing permeates the soundtrack for much of the film's first half. For a small production, the visual and special effects work is quite strong; the robots are good and the abandoned (and occasionally grisly) remnants of this extinct civilization are also well-executed, not calling obvious attention to how much more involved putting those scenes together must have been.

Ian Rowe, meanwhile, does good work as the only human face on-screen for most of the film. The one-man show is a tough gig even when you've got a reason to speak - trying to send a message or recording a log - and this Rowe handles it well. Playing the resourceful soldier without an obvious threadgiving something off-screen like the girl he left behind to talk about can make this sort of character seem as robotic as the things around him, but he never really comes off that way. Ian Rowe doesn't have a lot of specific material, but he makes this guy more than a video game avatar.

He does seem more comfortable once he gets out of the spaceship, as does the whole movie - on a limited budget, one can be somewhat less exposed when putting a CGI creature in a real-world environment than putting a man in the middle of a synthetic set. The direction (and the jobs that go with it) can seem a bit wobbly at times, too: There are moments in the middle of the movie where, despite the audience being told that the pilot is following a group of robots, it feels more like he is trying to avoid them. The picture will also go briefly out of focus in a way that seems deliberate rather than being an artifact of the festival's shaky projection, but I couldn't guess a purpose for it.

I wouldn't mind if that got cleaned up a bit by the time the general public got to see this one, because it's a decent little picture otherwise. It does sometimes feel like it was stretched to feature length out of necessity - the effects work requires enough resources that is not feasible for a short that nobody will spend money on - but the Rowes and their colleagues have made something that's worth a little attention, and if their goals involve moving on to something less insular, it will certainly be worth a look.

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