Deus (2022) Review
Deus was directed and written by Steve Stone (In Extremis, Entity) and stars Claudia Black (Farscape, Destiny), David O’Hara (Cold Pursuit, The Devil’s Own), Richard Blackwood (EastEnders, Hollyoaks), Charlie MacGechan (We Die Young, Good News), Crystal Yu (Casualty, Dancing Through the Shadow), Branko Tomovic (Schism, Will), and Phil Davis (Knuckledust, Nicholas Nickleby). It follows a group of astronauts as they venture towards Mars to investigate a black sphere broadcasting one word in every human language to find out what it means.
The Plot: Hindsight is 20-20, especially in sci-fi. With Deus, Stone took plenty of great ideas from other imaginative sources and tried to create an ultimate plot with them. There’s a great idea at the center, but too little of the in-between stuff fails to carry its weight.
A black sphere has recently manifested itself within Mars’ orbit, and the crew of the Achilles (why would anyone name their ship that?), consisting of Karla (Black), Ulph (O’Hara), Sen (Blackwood), Walsh (MacGechan), Tez (Yu), and Si (Tomovic) must figure out what it is and what it wants. That’s a strong mystery to set a course for, but Stone answers the question too quickly. Within minutes of the movie’s start, the sphere pulls the Achilles towards it and claims to be God – now beginning to broadcast the word “Deus” in all known languages. Again, interesting idea, but Deus doesn’t take it anywhere.
Before any significant questions can be answered by the mission’s benefactor Vance (Davis), or the sphere itself, communications go out and Si goes crazy, killing Tez. Deus doesn’t have much of a plot from that point onward, instead charging itself with becoming a feature built on excitement rather than intrigue – as the remaining crew fight amongst themselves regarding the sphere – which itself becomes a background object, even when they eventually land on it. Stone saves up for a reveal at the end that’s an interesting take by itself but is clearly a flip of Event Horizon’s core premise but did a terrible job at seeding the idea before it occurs.
The Characters: Deus’s ensemble is the weakest part of the film, as relationships aren’t established, personalities are nonexistent, and clashes start before the film truly begins.
Karla is extremely combative with her fellow crewmates. Vance thought this may’ve been because she recently lost her family in a car crash, but his speculation is as valid as anyone’s since it’s never touched on. She’s entirely an enigma since she’s questioning why the team is going on the mission despite being on that team going on said mission, thinks nothing of the sphere despite never seeing it until the start of the movie, and wants to turn back for no reason. Hard to root for is an understatement.
At least Ulph and Sen have purposes for being on the ship; the former is an engineer and the latter is the pilot. Motives, however, are in short supply for these two, who are equally blase about what could be man’s greatest discovery. Ulph is insistent on blowing up the sphere, even though he says he was raised Catholic and could be facing his God, and Sen wants to charge head-on into Deus’s central object for, again, seemingly no reason.
Walsh and Tez don’t have much of a function beyond rounding out the cast, and Si is merely an instigator (when he’s not blogging, because that’s important on a mission of this calibre) without offering a believable internal conflict Hope rested on Vance’s shoulders to clue in the audience as to what the big fuss between the crew members (and what the rest of their functions on the Achilles actually are), but the comms cut out during development time and expectations for characterization goes out the airlock.
The Drama: Stone teased the idea of Deus being a mystery, but with that angle jettisoned, his film becomes a drama that raises interesting questions just to abandon them for poorly fleshed-out argumentation.
Perspectives are key in a movie like this, as 2007’s Sunshine illustrates, and Deus lifts liberally from. In Deus, few of the options presented by the crew make sense in context aside from the captain, who wants to investigate the sphere. Everyone else jumps to extremes without qualifying the benefit of doing so. The audience has seen no evidence that the sphere has had a notable impact on the function of Earth, Mars, or anywhere else, so why would one want to run from it? Why would one want to blow it up? Why would another listen to it? Stone can’t agree with himself, and the human apprehension suffers.
Stakes almost get raised with the appearance of angular structures made of black rock on Earth (which we don’t get to see) that look exactly like one on the sphere, which hosts a white light that’s presumed to be a gate to somewhere. Deus’s conversation abruptly shifts to the prospect of entering, as the sphere proclaims this gate to take humankind to peace. While many might assume that the movie would guide speculation on the characters’ part, it never does and pushes one of its roster straight through to find that the sphere is being truthful and that the end is coming.
Returning back to bickering puts the movie in an awkward spot. Now that the nature of the sphere has been answered, the back and forth of getting swathes of humans to enter gates to a Heaven-esque place becomes more interesting, but the movie switches into its previously teased mystery mindset. Primarily, at least. Does Vance know more than he let on and what are his motives? It’s a backwards switch that retains the bright sparks of drama littered throughout Deus, but is irritatingly jumbled, as is all of the philosophizings.
The Technics: Normally an independent movie will be let down by its technical merits, but, as has been the pattern for Deus, that’s not the case here. Plenty of the background decisions stand firm in the face of a rough script.
Visual effects aren’t easy for Hollywood tentpoles to pull off, let alone a ground-level film like this, but Deus’s effects team did a terrific job at selling the space-faring voyage with a detailed (though derivative of Alien and Sunshine) ship passing through the void only to be confronted with a mesmerizing sight of a solid black ball with the powers of light. Some of the interior shots of the crew members standing in front of windows look a little chintzy, but the full exterior looks great, budget be damned.
Practical implementations of sci-fi standbys like cryochambers, spacesuits, and holograms/screens look acceptable for the budget, in a surprising contrast from the unusually adept VFX side, but the lack of imagination makes the scenes inside the Achilles feel indistinguishable from many other modest science fiction ventures. Filmmaking techniques from Stone don’t assist, as shots, audio tracks, and scenes are repeated almost verbatim from other more popular (and better) movies than the Deus turned out to be.
What’s old isn’t new again, and a lot of the new stuff in Deus isn’t what it could’ve been, but the ideas are good and the effects are beautiful enough to make for a half-invested watch. A rewrite and a remake could make this into something better than it is.