Set in an alternate near-future (one in which Quebec is its own country), Project-M begins with a pretty solid premise for a science fiction movie. Humans think there might be water on one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, but know that the journey to the moon will take approximately 1,000 days. So, they decide to put four astronauts up, just outside Earth, for 1,000 days just to see if the trip is possible. It’s called, as you might expect, “Project-M.”
The film follows these people. We more or less pick up the journey at the 900-day marker, and you’ll probably be surprised at how well everything is going. There isn’t a lot of fighting, the spaceship is holding up well, and everything seems to be okay. A discovery happens! There is freshwater on Europa! This is big news. Quebec is celebrating. About twenty days pass, and then the crew sees something on Earth. Explosions. Lots of them. Satellites are detecting high levels of radiation. They witness a nuclear war. There is no communication with Earth. What do they do now?
This is the situation that faces our crew. They are: Vincent (Jean-Nicolas Verreault), the commander; Andrea (Julie Perreault), the doctor; Jonathan (Julien Deschamps Jolin), the scientist; and Justine (Nadia Essadiqi), the mechanic. The roles each of them play are a little more complicated than that, but that’s what it breaks down to. They’re now alone — possibly in the universe — and have to figure out what to do. Then the tempers start to run high. This causes everything that you expect.
At this point, nothing goes right. Every now and then, a date flashes on the bottom of the screen and tells us how many days it’s been since the last disaster. And, yes, more happen. Some caused by the crew, some caused by things out of their control. It’s a constantly tense feeling aboard Project-M, even when things start to look up. You just know that another thing will go wrong. It’s Murphy’s Law plotting. Gravity did this, too. I don’t know why I notice it when it happens in space. I’m sure lots of Earth-bound movies have that, too.
It’s eventually tiresome. There’s a lot of meandering around in Project-M‘s second half. While you’re not often sure what direction the film is taking, that is a feeling that the film gives you through not being sure itself. It’s not like it’s particularly twisty — although it does have one doozy close to the end. It’s more that it just often sits around and waits for the next disaster. We spend time arguing or seeing each character’s single flashback (for character depth, I guess), but not a whole lot else.
It gets tiresome, I guess, is what I’m saying. These lulls are broken up by each thing that goes wrong, but it soon becomes formula, and it’s difficult to invest in something like that. The characters aren’t particularly deep, either, and don’t spend a lot of time building up a rapport with the audience. Okay, one has a son he cares about and misses. Good for him. That’s not depth, I’m sorry.
Despite being an independent film with a low budget, Project-M rarely looks that way. I guess space movies are easy to do on a limited budget — especially if most of the film takes place in a single set — but the film look great. It’s a frequently beautiful movie, and it does have one or two moments where it’s emotionally compelling, although not because of any of these people. It also has this annoying habit of letting all of its characters see something dramatic far before we do. We initially only get to see their faces, and while it’s supposed to build tension and make the sight more impressive, done more than once makes it annoying.
Project-M is a space movie with a great premise and only decent execution. These types of films live and die by their characters — not Murphy’s Law plotting — and Project-M‘s characters just aren’t particularly compelling. There’s little depth to them, and it’s hard to care about their plight as a result. The film looks great and does have a couple of great moments, but it often feels like it’s just drifting, waiting for the next disaster to strike.