The Astronaut's Wife

1999, Movie, R, 105 mins


Chilly, muted and refreshingly free of cheap shocks, this stylish psychological horror tale is greatly enhanced by subtle performances by leads Johnny Depp and Charlize Theron. Commander Spencer Armacost and his wife Jillian (Depp and Theron) are an extraordinarily close and happy couple, until something goes wrong during what should have been a routine shuttle mission. NASA mysteriously loses contact with Armacost and his co-pilot, Captain Alex Streck (Nick Cassavettes) for a full two minutes, and when the shuttle is brought down both men are unconscious. Armacaost appears unhurt, but Streck has suffered a heart attack and later dies under disturbing circumstances. The whole business leaves Jillian, who has a troubling history of mental unbalance, in an emotionally fragile state, as does Armacost's uncharacteristic decision to retire from flying and take an executive position at a New York City-based aerospace company. Already feeling isolated and lonely, Jillian then learns that she's pregnant. Is her increasing conviction that her husband isn't the man he used to be a matter of hormonal swings and stress-induced paranoia, or did something unimaginably awful happen to Armacost out in the cold, cold void of space? No-one's going to be particularly surprised at which turns out to be the truth, but writer/first-time director Rand Ravich isn't interested in exploring in cheeseball SPECIES II territory. Supported by Depp's histrionics-free portrayal of Armacost, he makes a disturbingly credible case for Jillian's fears being a high-strung, small-town woman's exaggerated response to the pressures of pregnancy, moving to New York and maintaining a changing relationship. Ravich also clearly knows his nightmare-pregnancy movie predecessors, witness such sly details as Theron's pixie haircut, which recalls Mia Farrow's in ROSEMARY'S BABY, and the casting of John Cassavetes son Nick and THE BROOD's Samantha Eggar, as Jillian's obstetrician. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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