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The 400-Word Review: Gravity

By Sean Collier

October 7, 2013

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There seems to be some reluctance among moviegoing consensus-makers to call Alfonso Cuarón’s epic lost-in-near-space masterpiece, Gravity, a horror film.

At the moment, IMDb gives it three genres: drama, sci-fi and thriller. Rotten Tomatoes goes with drama, “Mystery & Suspense” and “Science Fiction & Fantasy” — so, five different non-horror labels. Wikipedia says “space drama.”

Gravity is none of those things. It’s a horror movie, one that taps into the most basic terrors that human beings can experience — isolation, helplessness, silence — and plays them deftly and unrelentingly in an ever-escalating crescendo of fear.

The setup is in the trailers: Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, in the best performance of her career) is a rookie astronaut attempting to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) drifts playfully nearby, commanding a final mission for NASA. A voice from mission control (Ed Harris) reports that debris from an intentionally-destroyed Russian satellite is incoming; after a catastrophic series of collisions, Stone and Kowalski try to find a way to get back to safety.

Bullock and Clooney are the names above the title, and both are excellent. The real star of Gravity, though, is Cuarón. Gravity is his first directorial effort since 2006’s Children of Men — he also wrote both films — and only his fourth since 2000, after Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Y Tu Mamá También.

Here, he uses the camera as an extension of Dr. Stone; sometimes we enter a near-first-person perspective, other times we spin in contrast to her or watch her recede, but through sound and movement, we are tethered to her and made to feel every desperate note of her fear and, often, hopelessness. (A good deal of this beautiful work is attributable to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, a five-time Oscar nominee; he could well take home his first this year.)

The frightful scenarios posited by Gravity exist in cooperation and contrast with the stunning, beautiful sights Cuarón and company have created. Curving, distant land masses on the Earth’s surface vie for attention with the blackness of space. You could show these backdrops for 90 minutes, and the result would be breathtaking.

The collision of beauty and terror has been explored before, but perhaps never in a package as overwhelming as Gravity. It’s a singular, indelible experience. Simply saying that Gravity is one of the best films of the year doesn’t go far enough.




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