Shahin Sean Solimon’s Nebulous Dark doesn’t waste any time diving right into the writer-director-star’s maximalist vision for his science-fiction action epic. The expository scrawl details a post-apocalyptic setting that includes:
- A cataclysmic asteroid impact
- Toxic fallout
- A plague
- An alien invasion
- Zombies (two types)
- A.I. robots
- Subterranean hibernation
- Spaceships and, of course …
Pretty much every possible pop-cultural inspiration is in play here. It’s a low-budget, endlessly surprising and, at times, confusing story about one man, Apollo (Solimon), trying to make his way through the end of the world and off the burning husk that is Earth. To say Nebulous Dark is great would be overselling the film, but it’s fair to call it ambitious and interesting.
Fans of micro-budget science-fiction with the raw energy of someone taking what may be their one and only shot at silver-screen expression, Nebulous Dark has plenty to offer even if it overstays its welcome a bit by the end. For those looking for something a little more than straight-upu genre fun, or with a little more finish, well … nothing is made for everyone.
“Begin Phase 2, Alpha Protocol, Terraformation,” the Octalien orders early on. I believe they’re called Octaliens; I’m unclear, but it sounds that way. It doesn’t exactly matter. The extraterrestrial threats hunting Apollo are squid-like monstrosities intent on terraforming Earth that managed to remove their terrestrial rivals by causing a zombie war. Put this into a comic-book series with a good artist and some bombastic letter balloons and it would, well, probably end up little-read but highly loved by an ardent group of fans. It’s the sort of mashup that feels right at home releasing the same week as Warner Bros.’ Space Jam: A New Legacy, which probably won’t have half the ambition.
Nebulous Dark is never visually stellar, but it looks passable given its budget. This isn’t the sort of production that has the budget for location shoots or high-quality visual effects. It’s largely told in close-ups to hide the greenscreen. Zombies are seen running straight at the camera. Gunshots connect in a one-two shot format where Apollo shoots the gun and then we see the zombie hit. The tricks mostly work.
Where it shines, however, is its bizarre audio design, particularly at the start of the film where Solimon’s dialogue is almost entirely filtered through industrial effects because Apollo is wearing a gas mask. It makes it sound like he’s performing all his dialogue with the aim of stripping it from the film and releasing it as an ASMR recording elsewhere for a few extra bucks. Not knocking it. It’s eerily pleasant. Combined with a rhythmic electronic score and blunt, pulpy dialogue, Nebulous Dark, at least in large segments, makes for a pretty pleasant listen. Maybe that’s a strange thing to say. It’s damn true.
Still, Nebulous Dark is a film that will likely only cater to die-hard science-fiction fans and, even then, only those with open minds and open hearts willing to overlook the production’s low-budget DIY nature. The story is confusing and not particularly engaging, but the sheer ambition and “what will they bring in next” momentum powers it along.
Is it good? Is it bad? Is it so bad it’s good? I’m not sure that type of question can really be answered here. It’s made with clear passion and, in this case, works in more ways than it doesn’t. I’m not saying to go in with low expectations. I’m saying to go in with the right expectations. It currently boasts a 1-star rating on IMDb with 30 ratings. In my mind, that means it’s at least doing something genuine even if it doesn’t work for the wider audience. This is a passion project with guts to spare that’s worth watching, if only to take in the result of someone giving it their all to make the movie of their dreams with a microscopic budget.