REVIEW: ‘Red Heaven’ – The Real Experience of Surviving on Mars

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Red Heaven - But Why Tho

Red Heaven is a documentary film from Sandbox Films directed by Lauren DeFilippo and Katherine Gorringe and distributed by Utopia. The film follows six scientists as they simulate life on Mars, isolated in a living pod for 365 days. Shot by the subjects themselves, the film takes you through their daily lives in isolation, the arc of their emotions, and the purpose of their participation.

There’s been a lot of talk about manned missions to Mars for years now but rarely does the general public know much about what is going into planning for that mission. Red Heaven is an intimate look into a very specific aspect of that preparation. To be sure, it is a scientific experiment about the psychological conditions of isolation and crowded communal living on an uninhabitable planet. The individual science experiments the crew is conducting are important but rarely the focus of the film. Rather, it is entirely about their social dynamic and individual experience with the harsh conditions necessary to survive on Mars. As such, the movie is best viewed with those expectations in mind.

The life of astronauts on Mars is brutal. You watch in this film as its six subjects quickly lose their high hopes and spirits and devolve into individual cognitive decline as well as social distress. While the film never shows any outright animosity between folks, there’s certainly a lot to unpack among the six of them. It’s nothing salacious either, really just mundane frustrations with people’s tone of voice or how much water they use compared to others. But even in the minute details of their massive social experiment, Red Heaven is an immensely interesting film.

The interest, more than anything, is derived from its excellent direction and editing. The film is broken into several phases over the year of isolation based on the crew’s average reported mood. While the crew uses their cameras and prompts from producers to interview one another and highlight all aspects of daily life, what the film is really focused on isn’t the minutia itself so much as the clear shift in their collective attitudes and relations over time. The questions and answers themselves are interesting but less so than the overall tone they take as time crawls along. You get a clear sense of exactly how the crew feels at each average drop in the mood. It offers an element to the space documentary that I have certainly never seen before and found absolutely captivating.

The excellent editing may have come at the expense of the film’s timeliness somewhat. There is a sequence where the crew learns about massive terrorist attacks in Paris, France, and I have to be honest, with all that has happened over the past, so many years, I had to pause and Google what they were even referring to because I just simply did not remember this having happened. This, in a way, may have made the more than 6-year gap from filming to release more apparent, but also, in a way, reflects exactly the sentiment that the film was portraying. The isolation and ostracization that has ensued over the past several years, between the pandemic and just the social isolation wrought by political polarization, for that matter, may have had a similar effect on all of us as the isolation did for the crew of Red Heaven. Our experience of the passage of time and our relationship to people around us have irrevocably changed, as the experiment in Red Heaven starkly demonstrates itself.

A timely documentary, Red Heaven is an intimate and unique look into the world of space exploration and just what it will take to land humans on Mars.

Red Heaven is available now on AppleTV and Altavod.


Red Heaven
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

A timely documentary, Red Heaven is an intimate and unique look into the world of space exploration and just what it will take to land humans on Mars.