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Tropic (2022) Review

Edouard Salier (The Mali-Cuba Connection, Mixte) opens Tropic with a shot of men in a swimming pool competing to see who can stay underwater the longest. They’re astronauts in training, hoping to earn a place on a mission code named Eternity. Among them are brothers Làzaro (Pablo Cobo, After School Knife Fight, Stalk) and Tristan Guerrero (Louis Peres, How I Became a Super Hero, For Night Will Come).

It’s 2041, and we see traces of serve damage brought on by climate change and reflected in Tropic’s title, those are also reflected in talk about this mission being a last chance of some kind. It’s never made entirely clear what its purpose is, we do know that it is an extremely long trip lasting decades, hence the recruiting of new young astronauts. But there are only three positions on it for French crew members, and the brothers are determined to both be part of it.

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However, all that changes when a meteorite lands in a lake the brothers are swimming in. Tristan suffers some kind of contamination that causes him to mutate both physically and mentally.

If you’re thinking Tropic sounds like a sci-fi monster movie, you’re right. But it isn’t, once Tristan starts to change almost all the science fiction elements vanish and Salier along with his co-writers Mauricio Carrasco (The Land I’m Drowning In, Lodger) and Thibault Vanhulle (Accidental Family, Fahim) turn the film into a tightly wound and frequently depressing, family drama.

Of course, the contamination ends Tristan’s dreams of becoming an astronaut, but it also leaves him unable to care for himself. Since Làzaro is still training, that duty falls on their mother Mayra (Marta Nieto, Visions, Out of Sync), a woman who has struggled to support the boys since their father deserted the family years before. Now, as she was finally regaining her life, she once again is forced to once more sacrifice herself.

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Làzaro may have escaped without physical damage, but he suffers with survivor’s guilt. Not only did he escape unscathed, they were there so he could work on his conditioning, which lagged behind not just his brothers but many of the other trainees. He also feels bad about bringing this on his mother, and potentially leaving her to cope with it alone if he qualifies for the mission.

For his part, Tristan may have lost some of his mental capacity, but he can still realize not only the changes in himself and what he has lost, but the pressures that this has put on his family. He has to deal with that guilt on top of trying to retain a sense of self-worth in is current state.

Tropic may claim to be science fiction, but to a large extent you could replace the Eternity Mission with a sports scholarship and have much of the story play out the same. Similarly, its 2041 setting means the film doesn’t have any kind of futuristic look. If you’re considering watching it, I’d recommend disregarding that label and thinking of it as a conventional drama with some genre trappings.

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And as a domestic drama, Tropic is above average for the field, with well-developed characters who have realistic responses to their situations. The performances are all solid, with the leads doing an excellent job of expressing what their characters are feeling. Louis Peres does well in what are essentially two roles, the athletic, outgoing pre accident Tristian and the withdrawn person he becomes after.

If you’re a fan of dramas or are just looking for something a bit different from your usual fare, Tropic is a good choice. But if you’re looking for actual science fiction, you may want to reconsider your options.

Dark Star Pictures released Tropic in theatres on December 1st. It arrives on Digital Platforms on December 19th.

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