Less a traditional piece of science fiction than a moody indie drama seasoned with sci-fi trimmings, Another Earth is not easy to categorize. The sci-fi stuff boils down to this: a planet parallel to our own in every possible way has been discovered, and that’s all we know about it. The real focus is on Rhoda (Brit Marling), a young aspiring astrophysicist whom upon first hearing of this new planet crashes into a car stopped at an intersection, killing all its inhabitants save one, who falls into a coma. Some time later, she seeks out the survivor (now out of the coma), John (William Mapother), a composer whose family was in the car with him. She means to apologize, but in realizing that he does not know who she is, Rhoda gets cold feet and poses as a maid. She begins cleaning his house on a regular basis and the two slowly become friends.

On paper, the Rhoda and John narrative sounds derivative. In practice, the sci-fi presentation often seems lazy (particularly in how a wacky radio DJ breaks the new planet news to us). However, all of those contrivances began to fade away the more I watched. Director Mike Cahill excels at drawing viewers in and sustaining their interest via the film’s sound design, careful pacing and evocative cinematography. He also has a real find in Marling (who also co-wrote the screenplay). Vulnerable yet calm and intuitive, she reminds me of Sarah Polley circa The Sweet HereafterAnother Earth ends stunningly with a twist bringing its disparate themes together. Cahill and Marling will likely make better films, but in its best moments, this one transcends all labels, “moody indie drama” included.

Score (out of 10): 8

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