RED ROVER – a film by Shane Belcourt – SPOILERS
This is the story of Damon (Kristian Bruun), a Toronto geologist who lives in his ex’s basement and spends his spare time with a metal detector on the beach. (It is a nice beach and surprisingly there is almost never anyone else visible on it.) Later we will find out that he is on that beach looking for something specific, and he will find out the real reason he’s looking for it.
One evening, Phoebe (Cara Gee) goes walking on that same beach. (She is wearing a spacesuit costume because she is passing out flyers for a project called Red Rover, which sounds a lot like the now defunct Mars One initiative to send humans on a one-way trip to Mars. (For some reason, the Mars One website is still active.) Phoebe is an aspiring singer, and has been on this beach before, because after handing Damon a flyer, she asks him to look for her missing earring.
Damon gets fired from his job (for being too honest). Later, on the way out of his basement apartment, he sees his previously mentioned upstairs neighbours clearly visible having sex through a large picture window. (There are no curtains to impede the view.) Beatrice (Meghan Heffern) appears to be disturbed by the implications of this, but in a flashback we see her suggest to Damon (when they were together) that they should have sex even though they had no curtains on the windows. “Let them watch,” she said. But Damon wasn’t up for it.
All this sudden change for the worse in his life causes Damon to apply to join Red Rover‘s team. Then he finds Phoebe’s earring on the beach and when they get together again she helps him with his video presentation (which is so bad she submits only very small bits of it, filling the empty space with herself saying very nice things about Damon. Phoebe and Damon have sex inside the small replica of a space capsule he built in his kitchen, then she breaks up with him after seeing a picture of him and Beatrice hanging on his wall.
Damon asks both Beatrice and his former boss for letters of recommendation. He gets the letters, but his ex-boss warns him against idealism about space exploration, suggesting that such activities are all about exploitation of the mineral deposits.
Red Rover calls him in for an interview because they are impressed by the video Phoebe submitted (it apparently went viral). They ask if he has any questions before being shot into space without any possibility of returning home, and he is reluctant to say anything, but finally decides that he does have a question for them. “What exactly will we be doing up there? he asks. “We came here wanting to start over. To be new. Or at least that’s what we told ourselves when the truth is, we weren’t starting over, we were just expanding on the old. And I’m worried that that’s what Mars is gonna become. I’m just hoping that whoever does get picked that they are rooted in something more meaningful than just hitting the escape button on Earth. I hope that Red Rover is about being truly new, because that would be something. Our best human foot forward. Otherwise, we have no right to go up there.”
Those are the film’s main elements, but what brings them all together is Maya (Anna Hopkins). Damon and Maya first meet waiting to be interviewed by Red Rover. They have a cute conversation in which we learn that Damon is a coffee snob and that Maya is slightly OCD. Maya informs Damon that the interviews are being streamed live worldwide and that probably helps prod him into making the little speech quoted above. After Maya’s first appearance, it was something of a mystery why such a person would take a one-way trip into the void. That mystery is solved the second time she and Damon meet. (It is at the train station, and they are both heading for the airport having both been chosen for Red Rover.) She again manages to find out something personal and interesting about Damon. He doesn’t like to fly. (Damon actually tells Maya stuff about himself, something he almost never does with Beatrice or Phoebe.)
Maya also reveals why she wants to go to Mars. She wants to experience the overview effect, something she is apparently unable to do virtually or in her imagination. She tries to help Damon overcome his fear by getting him to imagine himself in the ship, leaving earth and heading into space. This somehow causes Damon to experience the overview effect in his imagination, and after zoning out for a few minutes, he takes off at a brisk trot to the club where Phoebe is performing that evening, leaving a (probably) very puzzled Maya behind.
Damon fleeing from the train station (and Maya) makes considerable sense in light of what we’ve learned about him. The Red Rover program, like Mars One, intended to raise funds for the Mars launch with a globally-broadcast reality tv show showing the astronauts living together during their training. Based on what we have learned about him, Damon might be interested in watching that reality show, but would be very uncomfortable participating in it.
In an interview with Charles Trapunski of Brief Take, Cara Gee was asked what she thought of her Red Rover character Phoebe. “We shot this film right after I shot season two, which was my first season of The Expanse,” she replied. “So to go from the ultra realistic spacesuit and science and technology and then come to this project in which I am wearing like a Halloween space costume outfit, which was soooo funny to me, to be able to bounce between those extremes. And when you look at the details of the costumes and compare those between the two characters, that’s sort of what really says a lot. I think that to play a character like Phoebe, who is so fly by the seat of her pants, she’s a free spirit in a very real way. And I don’t know, at the time it felt like she was kind of close to me, actually. Because I think that I was getting to laugh and joke and be silly and fall in love in a film and I hadn’t done that ever before. I play so many very serious characters, so to play someone that was silly, that was quite a bit closer to me than I think any other character that I’ve played.”
Kristian Bruun told Ben MK of The Reel Roundup about the scene in Red Rover that was the most memorable for him: “We did sort of a renegade shoot at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. I think our last day of filming was actually a full day and night shooting from the hip at the Ex. So we had a very basic camera for that. It was for this sequence where Cara and I are going through a ‘fun’ flight simulator training at the Ex. And we just had this amazing day on our feet running around the Ex shooting scenes – and mostly we didn’t need audio, so it just looked like we were just people hanging out, having fun, and shooting dumb photos and stuff like that. And we were just getting all this really fun, swirly light, colorful footage that I think is a really beautiful moment in the film. It was just such a perfect last day of filming. It was a really neat way to end off this crazy short, two-week period of filming this movie with no budget. We had the best time. I really, really loved that.”