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Terrarium (2003)
--Review by Nic Brown--
It takes a great deal of ambition and a lot of hard work to make an ultra low budget sci-fi film set on another world. Writer/Director Mike Conway is no stranger to working hard to get his projects completed and his film TERRARIUM (also known as WAR OF THE PLANETS) proves this point. The story follows twelve pioneering astronauts who volunteer to be the first human colonists on a new world. The film principally follows the mission’s Captain, Carl Halsey (Tim Daley). He’s considered a national hero back home, but he wanted to lead this mission as a chance to escape some of his own personal demons.

The astronauts are placed into suspended animation chambers for the trip but something goes wrong. Scheduled to ‘wake up’ before the ship lands, they are surprised to find themselves awakened on the planet after the ship has apparently crash landed. Now, weakened due to over a decade of immobility, they find themselves trapped within their suspension chambers. Worse still, they are not alone. A creature has entered the ship and is treating them as “the goodies under the glass” as it feeds on them one by one when it hungers for a meal. Tension is high and even after this obstacle is overcome, the survivors find themselves still trapped as they encounter a new threat to their survival: they are not the only intelligent life on the planet.

If you go into TERRARIUM expecting expensive special effects to support the science fiction story then you may be disappointed. However, if you keep in mind that the film was made on an ultra low budget then one can’t help but be impressed by what does show up on the screen. For one thing, writer/director Conway managed to create an entire spaceship set in his Las Vegas backyard. He also uses the surrounding desert to full effect in creating an alien environment. What is more impressive than the creative effects and sets used for the movie is TERRARIUM’s story. Conway drops the characters into a claustrophobic and helpless state as they try to escape their suspension chambers before the creature that has invaded their ship can devour them all. This works well because it plays on many human fears including the fear of the unknown and the fear of being trapped or helpless. The DVD comes as a two disk set that includes features about how the film was made as well as other work from Mike Conway’s long career in independent film. Although at times Daley’s acting seems wooden, overall he does a good job in the featured roll as the Captain. The rest of the cast also work well together and manage to take the film up several notches from what you might expect in a low budget film. So if you don’t suffer from severe claustrophobia then you should check out Mike Conway’s TERRARIUM and see what a man can do with a spaceship in his back yard.

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