It's a bad omen when, after the opening ten minutes of Airborne, you're not quite sure whether you're watching a horror spoof, or a straightforward horror film with a dodgy script, overblown performances, and tired plot premise. It transpires that Dominic Burns' 2012 flick is delivered with the tongue inserted some way into the cheek, but by the time we've got the measure of this uneven presentation, our initial uncertainty has given away to irritation, which eventually drifts into a tired sense of apathy.
On paper, the film gives rise to a small tingle of anticipation for a number of reasons. The primary tingle-giver is perhaps the prospect of catching Mark Hamill in what is apparently his first appearance in a British film, playing a soon-to-be retired traffic controller who arrives to work on his final evening and finds himself managing an imperilled flight during a spell of exceptionally bad weather. Those of similarly advanced years to your humble reviewer will assume that Michael Fish has proclaimed the chances of a hurricane this evening as being precisely nil.
Other triggers for potentially premature excitement include the fact that the film won a British Independent Film Festival award, and the never extinguished spark which leads all British horror fans to believe that the latest British effort will be something very special indeed.
I'm afraid to report that Burns' picture is most certainly not the next burning beacon of hope for the British film industry. Rather, this disharmonic union of lightly comic horror and failed high altitude tension serves up an unsatisfying jumble which fails in both the humour and tension stakes. There are numerous reasons for this failure, but the primary offender is the ridiculous plot which underpins the structure of this sky-high horror. We may be able to pass off writer Paul Chronnell's silly character dialogue and (supposedly intentionally) cheesy early narration as harmless nonsense, but it's the acutely angular nature of the plot twists which try our considerable patience. There's a sense that this story never really knows exactly what it is, and whilst creative plot routes are to be welcomed, the proliferation of ridiculous twists and turns only serve to irritate.
Navigating as best he can through these twists and turns from the relative safety of East Midlands airport (perhaps one of the few details I enjoyed about the film, having travelled from that very airport on a number of occasions), Hamill is almost completely neutralised not only by the plot, but also by the uneven performances of those surrounding him. As with many British productions, a number of the cast boast CVs with experience from television shows and British films of varying success, and Airborne is no different with a host of familiar British faces. Yet Andrew Shim belies his visual compatibility with his part by having to deliver entirely unconvincing lines, Gemma Atkinson isn't able to breathe life into what could have been a less one-dimensional role, and Alan Ford really should know better by now in his role as the prolific profanity-spewing gangster boss, leading an unnecessary barrage of swearing from all and sundry which would challenge the existing world record for the globe's heftiest swearbox. In fact, the only performance I can recall enjoying is that of Kimberly Jaraj, who works hard as the ever patient air hostess and proves the most convincing here.
Yet surely Airborne cannot be completely devoid of redeeming features? Well, the production values are certainly acceptable enough, with the cinematography presenting a fairly convincing depiction of an aircraft locked in peril; indeed, the film was shot on a real aircraft, rather than the usual set-based trickery. And in truth, the thankfully slim running time coupled with this acceptable visual presentation means that it's not a wholly painful process to watch this film; indeed, some may feel that with a little lowering of expectations before viewing, there are certainly films that provide a more thorough challenge to your patience. Drift into a reverie with no robust demands on the stimulus before you, and you might just be able to gently absorb this strangely neutralised horror effort.
So Burns' film has won an award, and it stars Mark Hamill in his first British film, but unfortunately, with all factors considered, this latest British horror entry is another film for you to file in your 'Spectacularly Forgettable British films' archive.
The disc I received for Airborne is a screener disc, so it's regrettable that I can't give you a clear picture of the visual qualities of the retail version. The DVD is released encoded for region 2, and is presented in what is presumably the native aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The image quality on the screener disc bodes fairly well; the disc image showed grain and evidence of pixelation which I would hope is not apparent on the retail version, and the balance of colour seemed decent enough.
The audio on the screener disc was presented in Dolby 2.0 stereo. I've tried to find out what the retail release features, but have not been able to establish this; I'm going to take a stab at a 5.1 presentation. The sound quality on the screener is decent enough, with a good tonal range and no evidence of distortion, so given that this is a sturdy-looking release, you should expect a reasonable audio performance if you invest in the retail product.
I believe that the retail version contains a trailer for the film and nothing more.
Dominic Burns directs a film which could have been a tidy little Brit horror flick with a renowned U.S. guest, but the opportunity is wasted with a silly plot and clunky dialogue. If you can ignore these faults and switch off to the rivers of profanity, there are worse films to consume 78 minutes of your life, but Airborne should still nosedive to a position a long way down your watch list.