Review: Almost Home

Written and directed by Nils Keller, co-written by Max Richert, when they learn of an outbreak of a dangerous virus shortly before their long-awaited return to Earth, a teenager and his mother struggle to decide whether to land or return to space aboard their confined spaceship. Starring: Susanne Wolff, Jeremias Meyer, Stephan Kampwirth, Patricia Meeden and Malaya Stern Takeda.

Ever since the pandemic began we’ve seen a number of different films take on those themes, most of them unsuccessfully but Almost Home actually does a fantastic job of translating the experience. Nils Keller and Max Richert’s writing really embraces the intensity of isolation and space travel is an ideal representation of it. Then it asks serious questions about choosing freedom over personal safety and health, as well as the impacts each choice has to mental health. In doing so it creates a surprisingly tense atmosphere, the emotion and suspense which it manages to build are impressive and compelling. It also brings through a palpable tone of sadness, especially through Jakob’s (Jeremias Meyer) constant reflection upon what he’s missing out on. Additionally they create a wonderful relationship between Jakob and his mother, Nico (Susanne Wolff), there’s an interesting rationality and teamwork to it, while simultaneously having that battle over power and protection.

Watching Susanne Wolff and Jeremias Meyer bring that relationship to life is truly enjoyable. The pair are both terrific actors and their performances are filled with tension and a very satisfying amount of emotion. They both present different versions of strength, one of youth, confidence and enthusiasm, the other of experience, reliability and commitment. There’s a classic mother-son relationship of having that understanding, banter and caring but at the same time occasionally hitting each other’s buttons, butting heads and needing time apart. It’s interesting that they never genuinely hit a true breaking point, their issues hit their peak and while they may push away from one another, their relationship never feels fractured. It shows the real talent behind it that Wolff and Meyer manage to build such an authentic and sincere connection.

There’s then a number of great elements which heighten the quality of Almost Home. Starting with the superb effects work and convincing space setting, it’s not easy to make it that effective that you can just let yourself be drawn into it but here they achieve that flawlessly. The cinematography is sharp, it’s great to see them bringing through the classic aspect of sci-fi in having futuristic style home-videos, hitting a little nostalgia. Nils Keller’s direction is strong throughout and superbly supports the tension while building an engaging atmosphere. Hans Könnecke doubles down on that by having such a beautiful grasp on the emotion of the story and doing so with subtlety and grace, which is always such a nice contrast against the harsh, dangerous setting of space travel. The use of sound as a whole is extremely well done, as well as the set design which is excellent. Each of the film’s elements are all working so cohesively that it’s satisfying to watch.

Almost Home is one of the few to successfully translate the experience of the pandemic into an emotional, compelling and entertaining film. It’s excellently shot, the aesthetic hits the nail on the head capturing the futuristic setting but never feeling cold. Susanne Wolff and Jeremias Meyer both give terrific performances and are a joy to watch. It uses a lot of effects and they’re all done to perfection, it’s a great experience to be so easily drawn in and transported by them. There’s a stellar atmosphere at work, the story is easy and engaging to watch unfold, and every element of the film from sets to score all compliment each other wonderfully.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯½ | 9/10

Shortlisted at the Academy Awards 2023 for ‘Best Live Action Short’ – Showing next at Film Festival Max Ophüls in Germany on 25 January

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