‘Crater’ Review: Diverting Disney+ Adventure Takes Its Young Heroes on a Trip to the Moon
Some straight-to-streaming offerings inspire viewers to bemoan the movie’s fate, wishing it had received a proper theatrical release — to be seen the way movies are meant to be seen, and by the widest audience possible. “Crater” isn’t one of those, but neither is this Disney+ original mere algorithm-created dross. Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s lunar adventure follows five young friends as they hijack a rover to visit an enigmatic crater for one last hurrah before one of them leaves the moon forever. It’s sci-fi informed by a Gen-Z sensibility, with a particular focus on those Zoomers who can’t imagine a bright future on the planet they actually inhabit — an ever-expanding demographic, one imagines.
The teens of 2257 dress and speak remarkably like those of today, perhaps because those who’ve grown up on the unnamed lunar colony have an unstuck-in-time quality — a result of their home environment having no real culture of its own. Chief among them are the recently orphaned Caleb (Isaiah Russell-Bailey) and his three besties Dylan (Billy Barratt), Borney (Orson Hong) and Marcus (Thomas Boyce), a quartet that becomes a quintet when they enlist the help of newly arrived earthling Addison (Mckenna Grace) in making their plan a reality. There isn’t much optimism in the group, but they do share a kind of resigned acceptance. Things on the colony are the way they are, and though the kids feel powerless to change it, they at least enjoy their time together.
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As one of the “death benefits” afforded by the passing of his father (rapper-actor Scott Mescudi, better known by his stage name Kid Cudi), a miner on the lunar colony who died in the line of duty, Caleb is to be sent to Omega — a faraway colony the hoi polloi can only dream of, but also one that takes 75 years to reach. The journey necessitates cryostasis, meaning Caleb will wake up the same age he is today and never see his friends — the last living people he knows — again. Hence their risky plan: Caleb’s father was always curious about the crater, and Caleb wants to visit it as a kind of memorial. That’s a fairly heavy premise for a YA drama from the Disney stable, but “Crater” stays light on its feet.
All is not well, however, between the members of the group who were born on the colony and the one who recently arrived from the planet it orbits. It’s a tension summarized by Borney: “Earth people have different ways. They’re…they’re peculiar!” He’s not wrong, to be fair, and that dynamic is the basis for the film’s most compelling world-building. Downtrodden earthlings are lured to the moon by the promise that 20 years of hard labor mining helium will earn them and their loved ones a much sought-after place on Omega; what they aren’t told about is all the fine print that extends those contracts by years if not decades. Children born there don’t learn about anything that doesn’t pertain to mining, meaning they have questions aplenty for Addison. Is the sky really blue on Earth, they wonder, and what exactly is the appeal of baseball?
Grace, a precocious young talent previously seen in everything from “I, Tonya” and “Gifted” to “Captain Marvel” and “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” delivers the strongest performance of the ensemble — something that’s becoming a habit of hers. Frequently cast as the main character’s younger self in flashbacks, including in 2021’s “Malignant,” Grace shows here that she’s more than ready to lead a film.
“Crater” is still fairly weightless as drama, especially during a narrative detour in which the friends go on, well, a detour in search of more oxygen after they deplete most of theirs while messing around. At such points, it almost feels like they’re killing time in order to expand the story to feature length. The actual tension ultimately has little to do with space colonies or oxygen canisters, but rather the hopelessness and anger unique to adolescents with nothing to look forward to. There are echoes here of “Never Let Me Go” in that sense, albeit considerably less dark and resonant. If it doesn’t quite match Greta Thunberg excoriating world leaders for “[stealing] my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” “Crater” nonetheless gives a quiet voice to its characters’ fraught plight.
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