The Astronaut’s Wife (1999)
Written & Directed by Rand Ravich
Spencer Armacost is a NASA astronaut sent up for a routine mission, repairing a satellite among other scientific pursuits. An accident occurs while he and his crew are in orbit, but he returns home to his wife Jillian no worse for wear. He quickly decides to quit NASA in favor of the private sector and arms development for a corporation based out of New York City. Jillian begins to suspect something is wrong with her husband and learns something happened above the Earth and that this man may not be her husband.
For years, I’d heard about how terrible this late 90s sci-fi horror film was. I never sat down and watched it but always assumed that the news of its wretchedness must be overrated. As part of a light jaunt through horror cinema in honor of the season, I finally went to Netflix and took a watch. Dear god. This film indeed is a disaster from the first scene to the final one. It does not surprise me that Rand Ravich has not directed a feature film since because without a doubt this torpedoed any chances he would have for further big screen work. This also seems to mark the moment where Johnny Depp’s career had its first big wrinkle and would lead to him becoming the sort of film joke of the present day.
The plot has a lot of potential. Astronaut infected by an alien while in orbit comes home with plans of bringing more of his kind and impregnates a human woman. The film chooses to play this out like Rosemary’s Alien Baby, complete with Charlize Theron’s pixie haircut though. There is also a lot of unnecessary ominous portent conveyed through music and ludicrous camera angles when the horror being revealed was quickly figured out early in the film and isn’t a shock. Director Ravich also does not know how to direct an actor to save his life. The takes he chooses seem to have come from the pile of worst line deliveries. I guess in his head, Ravich was thinking how wonderfully dramatic each line reading was. To the average, audience goer I think it’s a little too much ham.
The film works so hard to build atmosphere, which it fails miserably at, that it eschews any real character development or display of chemistry between the leads Depp and Theron. The tension between them and in the story is outright laughable. Clea Duvall pops by in a poppy riot grrrl lite get up to continually chirp that Jillian’s husband is oh so wonderful the bestest. See how great their marriage is! Doesn’t that just tear your heart out as he is revealed to be….duh duh duhhhh an alien! No, you never feel anything for these two. The final scene is just over the top comedy which was intended to be a shocking twist.
It’s clear Ravich has seen a lot of good paranoid cinema (Rosemary’s Baby, Invasion of the Body Snatchers). But he really doesn’t seem to have learned anything from his viewings. Instead, we get bits and pieces of those other better films slapped together in something that adds up to a disaster. So, yes, reports of its horridness were accurate. If you are looking for something in the vein of an MST3K viewing this Halloween season, might I suggest this treat?