The biggest strength of Crater has to be its final ten minutes, which feel like savoring a great dessert after what was a decent meal at best. To a great extent, it feels like a silly attempt at a Stranger Things recreation in a different setting, especially the way the five main characters are written. Sure, kids are all the same, but these five are an awful lot like Mike, Will, Dustin, Lucas, and Max. There is no Eleven, though, and no demogorgon mind flayer stuff, either. For a movie that is set entirely on the moon, the villains here are rather wordly: class struggle, capitalism, and the exploitation of the poor.
But seamlessly integrating all these in the narrative of a Disney movie, whose target audience is mainly kids and teenagers, is a herculean task. And the movie couldn’t exactly pull off Oscar Martinez explaining “what does surplus mean” to Michael Scott like a five-year-old if you know what I mean. It does not necessarily fail, though, especially the epilogue, which neatly ties up everything and, most importantly, pretty much makes the movie what it is. Shawn Levy, who is, in fact, a producer on Stranger Things, which explains the hangover, has lately been behind moderately entertaining, “here, just have a good time” sort of offbeat movies in the form of Free Guy (2021) and The Adam Project (2022). Levy bankrolling a project like Crater with the producer of something as cerebral as Arrival (2016) makes all the sense in the world.
I thought it was a good idea not to have a big action set piece or a huge dramatic confrontation scene and keep things mostly grounded, even with the lack of gravity. The credit for that probably goes to director Kyle Patrick Alvarez, the man who has previously directed the fantastic The Stanford Prison Experiment. Compared to Alvarez’s past works, Crater was probably like a relaxing vacation to him. That doesn’t mean I am not taking the group of Caleb, Dylan, Borney, Marcus, and Addison seriously; in fact, despite the characters bearing the same DNA as the Stranger Things kids, their lives are much darker in comparison. The movie itself is built upon a genuinely sad premise: Caleb has to leave his friends as he has been bequeathed a lifelong trip to this place called Omega due to the untimely death of his miner father. So, Caleb’s three best friends, along with the new girl from Earth, take him on a road trip through the rocky roads of the moon. Their destination happens to be a crater, which Caleb’s father asked him to visit many years before his death. The Omega place, until it is shown for real, seems a lot like Kendall Roy’s promised heaven, Living Plus.
Being a coming-of-age, road trip movie at its core, it does manage to bring in a lot of fun and frolic. Setting the movie in a futuristic lunar colony and having the character of Addison migrate from Earth just a few months ago provides the opportunity to run an Earth versus moon head-to-head funny bit. The boys not finding the game of baseball remotely exciting no matter how hard “Earth-girl” Addison tries to sell it is not laugh-out-loud funny but blends very well into the narrative. I would say that apart from the lack of originality, the writer has done a commendable job when it comes to developing the characters, given that I found myself caring about them and getting anxious about their potential danger during the road trip. Of course, the impressive performance from the young cast elevates the movie to a higher level. McKenna Grace, who now has more film and television credits than people double her age, confidently portrays Addison with a lot of positive energy. While Grace is the familiar face in the cast, the other kids—especially Billy Barratt and Isaiah Russell-Bailey who play Dylan and Caleb, respectively—also shine pretty brightly. Kid Cudi chips in as Caleb’s dead dad.
Even though the movie chooses to avoid spectacle, it looks spectacular thanks to top-notch work from cinematographer Jas Shelton and a generous splash of money. Some of the shots are jaw-droppingly brilliant. Not to mention, the VFX work is nothing short of top-notch. Alvarez’s direction is not exactly groundbreaking, but it is good enough for the material he has in hand. Influences from popular science fiction movies like Moon (2009) and Alien (1979) can be seen here and there in Crater. I am not sure whether or not those were intentional homages or just coincidences that emerged from the subconscious, but I didn’t mind those at all.
Usually, movies of this kind have a tendency to go haywire during the final act by attempting to please the audience with a grand, action-filled climax where the good fights evil and wins in the end. That is where Crater sets itself apart, as it does exactly the opposite of that. It takes a rather anticlimactic route by abruptly pausing the proceedings at a certain point and then picking it up from a point that comes much later when everything has already happened. Coming back to the final ten minutes, which are rather somber and quiet, this is where it ties every single loose end neatly and ends things on a very satisfactory note. I was lowkey hoping for an emotional reunion sort of thing between the characters, thanks to my subconscious being wired like that. But in all fairness, something like that would really fit in this movie. So, the movie not choosing to do any of that just for the sake of it is something I end up appreciating very much. This also speaks to the self-awareness of the movie, something that is very important but that a lot of genre movies don’t really have. Crater knows what kind of movie it is from the very beginning, and it holds on to that till the very end. It is not something that will stay with you for a long time, but not every movie needs to do that. Sometimes you can just watch something for one and a half hours, have a fairly good time, and then move on.