There are three characters (a fourth if you count a disembodied voice), it hints at being set in the far future – while it’s shot and set almost entirely in desert there’s a single back plate of a futuristic city – and there’s almost no backstory about the characters. “Everything Beautiful Is far Away” seems to have ambitions of being an old school sci-fi film where a sparse plot unravels the interaction between a few people as a comment on some aspect of the human condition.
Joseph Cross (who looks so much like Shawn Ashmore from the “X-Men” films it borders on distracting) is Lenert, a young man who set out into the desert for the peace and quiet with a robot companion he calls Susan. As Susan explains during the voiceover introduction, her parts have gradually stopped working and fallen off until only her head is left (in fact, her internal battery has long since run out and when the film opens, her head has no power). Lenert spends his days hiking across the sands, occasionally coming across abandoned machinery or crashed vehicles searching for parts to make Susan whole again.
It’s an ordered, routine existence until they come across a young woman lying in the desert, half dead from thirst. At first Rola (Julia Garner) wants nothing to do with the weird young traveller and his robot head, letting them nurse her back to health before high tailing it.
But Lenert follows her, finally convincing Rola she doesn’t have the necessary survival skills to make it on her own and that they should team up. Rola is looking for the fabled lake that’s supposed to exist somewhere in the desert, and as Lenert joins her on her quest and she on his, they become friends in classic mismatched pair fashion.
“Everything Beautiful is Far Away” has a slow, languorous pace many will find hard to stick with, especially if you’re expecting the high tech trappings of a science fiction film. There’s a neat little 80s robotic soundtrack that occasionally breaks through as if to remind you it’s not “Lawrence of Arabia”, but when all’s said and done the story doesn’t really resolve anything, it just ends.
Whether they find the lake or not is only the most overt denouement of the story, but the script by writer/co-director Pete Ohs seems to want to say so much more about the value of real versus artificial friendships and how our differences complement each other, and rather than come to any conclusion those themes are just kind of… there.
But he and his crew have wrung every cent out of a very low budget so the film has a sense of scope and good cinematography, but while it looks crisp and at times beautiful, “Everything Beautiful is Far Away” just needs more meat on its narrative bones.