Biosphere is an off-kilter sci-fi comedy with a lot of potential that is reminiscent of the 1996 Hollywood comedy Biodome. It is a two-handler feature film debut from Mel Elstyn, a frequent co-writer with Mark and Jay Duplass. The film takes place in the post-apocalypse after most of human civilization has been extinct due to dire climate change. While the film has the potential to be a biting satire, the script or direction never lives up to its potential and the film ends up feeling more like a stage play or verbose SNL or Mad TV sketch that stretches itself to 90 minutes as it rehashes many of the same gags over and over again. While the film is full of many ideas, it falls short both as a satire and as a buddy comedy.
Not only is the film a two-handler that was probably produced during the COVID era for budget constraints, but the film is confined to one setting as it takes place in a condo-sized bio-bone, where Ray (Sterling K. Brown) and Bill (Mark Duplass, who also co-wrote the script) are confident they are the last two remaining humans on Earth. Outside of the dome is pitch-darkness with occasional unedified glowing green lights, and inside they live off fresh ventilation, a hydroponic garden, and a tiny fresh pool of evolving fish that are always conceiving other fresh fish for them to each. There is even a small track for them to get some exercise in.
Courtesy of IFC FILMS
We can sense they are close friends. Ray is very well-versed in science and biology; Billy is a lot goofier and enjoys playing and discussing Super Mario Bros. The two men work together on the track as they discuss science, Mario, and remain as cheerful as they can in spite of the circumstances. It’s pretty clear that Ray is much smarter than Billy, and as the narrative progresses, it’s revealed that Billy was the president of the United States and Billy was one of his advisors—and Billy built a dome in preparation for the cataclysmic events that led to the end of civilization.
As the green light gets closer to the dome, Ray begins to notice the fish start to transition genders from male to female, and the fish that were once male are now laying eggs. This opens the Pandora’s box for another twist I won’t reveal, but the narrative ends offering some sophisticated commentary on human evolution and science, and the exchanges between Sterling K. Brown and Mark Duplass are very comical, moving, and sharply scripted. Sadly, the film builds up so much potential that the absurdist and equally provocative material never quite reaches the payoffs that it sets out to achieve.
Courtesy IFC Films
There were quite a few moments in Biosphere where I was amused and touched, including the very impressive opening to an intricate scene that opens up many discussions about evolution, science, human, sexuality, reproduction, and human survival, but for the most part, the film ends up feeling tedious as both the humor and ideas end up falling flat. For its two great leads, impressive set design, and sophisticated potential, the film fails to capture the spirit and deadpan brilliance of the Duplass Brothers other films.
Biosphere is now playing in limited theaters