Review by Camden Ferrell
Red Heaven is one of the more fascinating documentaries I have seen in the past years. From directors Lauren Defilippo and Katherine Gorringe, this is a unique documentary that explores the human psyche in such a profound way. Thanks to great subjects, authenticity, and solid execution, this movie succeeds on an informative level as well as an entertaining level.
As part of a NASA experiment, six scientists live on “Mars” for a year in order to explore the effects of isolation on humans. “Mars” is really an isolated part of Hawaii, but their routine still simulates what would most likely occur on the Mars expedition. This experiment is super interesting, and it’s a fantastic study of the human morale.
At the beginning of the experiment, each scientist is given a camera to document their experiences. This documentary is expertly assembled from that footage. Defilippo and Gorringe were able to boil down all of that material to less than 90 minutes of footage, and not a second was wasted. It is organized very well, and it steadily goes through the entire year in isolation.
It’s fascinating to see how each person’s attitude, morale, and interactions slowly change over time. It’s a concept that keeps the audience in suspense and always eager to see how things progress. It’s hard to really imagine the psychological tolls of the experiment, but the character’s talking head interviews do their best to contextualize their thoughts and feelings.
As subjects, the six scientists are very interesting. They’re all very charming and funny at times. It all feels very authentic and natural, and these realistic moments are what gives the film a human element. Each possess unique abilities, backgrounds, and skills, and the movie never feels repetitive thanks to this.
One of the few flaws of this movie comes from how fast it goes by. It’s well-paced, but it feels like the movie could have spent more time to deeper explore these characters during times of turmoil. It goes through all 365 days very quickly, and there are times where it would have been nice to slow down. Despite this, it’s still a highly entertaining documentary that never generates any boredom for the viewer.
This is an experiment that is extremely valuable to NASA and the future of the space program, and it’s really an honor to get to see a first-hand look at this experience. While the results won’t be published until 2021, this documentary gives audiences a taste of what to expect. This was clearly a Herculean task for everyone involved, but all of this work paid off on both a scientific and artistic level.
Red Heaven is a captivating look at isolation and the enduring nature of the human spirit. It is as educational as it is enjoyable. There is a lot to admire about the craftsmanship of the film and the efforts of the scientists in the experiment. Keep this movie on your radar for future viewing.
Red Heaven was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.