Astraea full movie review - An opportunity missed
An hauntingly bleak post-apocalyptic setting that has the commendable restraint to keep some questions unanswered is the setup for a film that unfortunately does absolutely nothing original with it.
Astraea's pseudo-rapture and its tight cast is a perfect backdrop for a "human condition" story, but what makes its way to the screen is weighed down by domestic melodrama and cookie-cutter characters.
The well-paced beginning of the film, where Matthew (traveling with his teenage sister Astraea) and James (defending the house he and his cousin Callie take up residence in) have a tense armed standoff, gives way to a desert of characterization. Callie seemingly exists only to serve as a object of desire for Matthew, and to defuse the subsequent conflicts between Matthew and James, who is becoming increasingly frustrated at his cousin's budding soap-opera relationship. A scene where Callie pretends she is a cashier at the gas station she and Matthew are looting comes off less as a naturally desperate response to the near-extinction of humanity than something from a saccharine romantic comedy.
James is probably the best character here, but I feel like this is partially because his complaints begin to sound a little less grumpy/passive-aggressive and more justified than I imagine they're supposed to. Astraea, the title character and the one with the most potentially interesting arc, tries to persuade Matthew to get them back on the road, unsuccessfully. She then spends valuable time - you guessed it - in the background, recuperating from running a snowmobile into a tree, subsequently revealing she had a vision that the grandmother they had been trying to reach in Nova Scotia has died. Presumably, her younger brother is going to starve to death, but nobody seems particularly troubled by this.
Matthew and Callie's relationship grows deeper (which means they have sex, that's about it) and makes its way onto the set of a nauseating Zales commercial, where Callie, surrounded by ten billion rings and candles, announces she's pregnant (well, that she missed her period two weeks ago), making their sex scene laughably extraneous foreshadowing in addition to being not offering much insight into either character. Astraea has a vision that they will fall through the ice when returning from their WASP diamond fire palace and... they fall through the ice (indicated by some suspect cinematography).
Callie announces afterward that she had a miscarriage, despite the fact that as mentioned before, only two weeks had gone by, so essentially we're supposed to really mourn this loss of a (potentially non- existent?) zygote. I suppose this is supposed to have a deeper impact because of just how few people are left, but instead it just feels like the timeline of the movie (which had to be short to make Astraea's complaints not hopelessly late) and this particular ending were not particularly compatible. Astraea and James leave, and Callie and Matthew remain. The film seems to want to convince us we're supposed to feel equal sympathy with both new 'constellations', but only succeeds when it comes to checking out of Callie and Matthew's Tommy Wiseau- esque romance.
Astraea's attachment to the land without the interference of technology and the connection to her visions, and the implications for empathy and hope in this world are tragically under-explored. The journey here centers around a tepid heterosexual near-love triangle and its inevitable male conflict, rather than Astraea's character coming to understand anything about herself or Callie doing much of anything. I'd suggest Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter for anyone looking for a more competently produced and similarly snowy, bleak, beautifully shot world where a female lead must discover her purpose in an alienating and hostile social environment.