Duncan Jones’ low-budget science fiction feature Moon curries a lot of favor in its first 15 minutes, which consist of star Sam Rockwell going about his daily business as the lone human employee at a power company’s lunar outpost. Rockwell cracks jokes, swears freely, and demonstrates a love-hate relationship with his over-helpful, omnipresent computer/robot GERTY, voiced by Kevin Spacey. Moon looks like a bargain-priced 2001, and has the clean, white, sterile design familiar to any thinky outer space movie made after 1968. But Rockwell’s presence gives the movie a funky humanity, and it helps that the set designers introduce some subtle smudges and clutter to reflect the presence of a man nearing the end of his three-year contract. Unlike GERTY—who expresses rudimentary emotions via a series of never-not-funny smiley/frowny/nervous faces—Moon has an honest-to-goodness personality.
Half an hour into Moon, Rockwell gets into an accident while on an exterior mission, and the movie takes a major turn that’s best left undiscussed (even though the movie’s trailers provide more than a few hints as to what’s up). In its second half, Moon becomes more of a head-trip, with elements of genuine mystery colored by the inherent anxiety of a man stranded in an alien landscape, far from home. At times Moon resembles the TV series Lost, in that it’s about a conflicted character digging for clues into his bizarre predicament—and thus digging for clues about the secrets of his own past.
After Moon’s big plot twist, Jones and co-screenwriter Nathan Parker should’ve considered introducing a gripping suspense sequence or two—or at least returning to the low-key humor that makes the first third of the movie so charming. With a little push here or there, Moon might’ve reached that next level, and become more than merely a smart genre riff. Still, it’s no mean trick to combine a winning lead performance with traces of philosophical soul-searching, against a futuristic backdrop that’s familiar but never hackneyed. Moon is enjoyable as much for its small scale and solid execution as for its crazy twists and creeping existential dread.