Dark Matter review: Joel Edgerton’s bleak sci-fi thriller lacks compelling emotional core

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Dark Matter features Joel Edgerton in dual roles.
Dark Matter features Joel Edgerton in dual roles. Credit: Apple TV+

How many times do you need to watch a scene of a physics professor trying to explain the paradox of Schrodinger’s Cat before you catch on that you’re about to be led down a very confusing path?

You just know someone is going to throw around words like “superposition” and “decoherence” or give an exposition dump of how a liminal space corridor is “a manifestation of the mind as it attempts to visually explain something our brains haven’t fully evolved to comprehend”.

Despite the reams of TV shows and movies that feature parallel universes which are somehow explained by a piece of folded paper being pierced by a pencil, quantum physics is still a brain-melt.

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So, you’d have to be pretty interested to invest in Dark Matter, a grim slog of a TV series that has plenty of intellectual heft but few emotional ones.

Dark Matter features Joel Edgerton in dual roles.
So many sad faces. Credit: Apple TV+

Jason Dessen (Joel Edgerton) is a physicist who has a wife, Daniela (Jennifer Connelly), a son, Charlie (Oakes Fegley), and a best friend, Ryan (Jimmi Simpson). After a night out on a bender, Jason is kidnapped by masked figures and wakes up discombobulated in a life that’s not his own.

He’s in a strange facility and everyone around him seems to know who he is but it’s all wrong. Jason is in a parallel universe, having been forced there by an alternate version of himself (also Edgerton) who has taken over his life in his world.

The emotional throughline is supposed to be a fight to save his family from this imposter (and rapist, given he’s canoodling with Daniela under false pretences) but that’s all lost under the weight of its endless seriousness about the science of how it works.

We wouldn’t need the heavy-handed explanations if the human story was more compelling – audiences are happy to skip over the science they barely understand to get to the nitty gritty. But the writing gives you little to invest in, not having spent enough time or care establishing why we should want Jason to triumph.

Dark Matter features Joel Edgerton in dual roles.
Dark Matter is a dense sci-fi story lacking an emotional core. Credit: Apple TV+

There are some strong ideas in Dark Matter but its never-changing gloom makes for hard viewing. Where’s the levity, the warmth or even the reprieve?

OK, the word dark is literally in the title – and it’s also literally a dark show in its cinematography, so make sure to turn off all the lights – but you’d have to be a masochistic watcher to forego some variation.

On the surface, Dark Matter ticks a lot of boxes — committed performances from talented actors (Edgerton is great, so is Alice Braga who plays a lover and colleague from the other reality), an impressive production design and even decent visual effects.

A high-concept sci-fi TV series is already a demanding ask for anyone who’s not a genre groupie so you need to make it more accessible – usually through the emotional arc.

And when there are so many expensive TV productions coming out every week, being, on balance, merely competent is not enough. Especially when it’s also super bleak.

Rating: 2½ out of 5

Dark Matter is on Apple TV+

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