One of the reasons behind the enduring popularity of science fiction is that it’s a genre with plenty for both big blockbusters like Star Wars or Star Trek and smaller, more thoughtful films like the upcoming Midnight Special.
In anticipation of Jeff Nichols‘ upcoming film, we thought we’d compile a collection of indie science fiction films that fans of the genre will enjoy.
Equal parts indie success story and borderline incomprehensible time travel flick, Primer marked the debut of one of the most unique and independent voices in modern western film making in Shane Carruth. Time travel, as a science fiction trope, has been tackled an immeasurable number of times, to varying levels of success, but perhaps no film deals with the reality of the mechanic as a real world function like Primer.
Two engineers create a functioning time travel device and use it to game the stock market. Though as it invariably does in these movies, the situation soon turns sour. With a plot nearly as complicated as the electromagnetic equations the duo deal with, the film is by no means a straight forward watch (it famously took some seven years before the film’s chronology was cracked), but as engrossing, original science fiction, the film is a wonder. That it was made on such a shoe-string budget of a mere $7000 only adds to the special nature of the film.
The Spierig Brothers are some of most ambitious and dynamic Australian filmmakers out there and their adaption of Ronald Hiemlich‘s short story “All You Zombies” here is their best work yet.
Predestination is a slick time-travel thriller that doesn’t miss a beat and is brought to life by a great script and some fantastic performances from Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook. The soundtrack is moody, the imagery poetic and the script simmering with compelling ideas.
Stretching back the origins of the genre with Frankenstein, science fiction is a genre that’s always game for a story dealing with the implications of artificial intelligence – and Ex Machina is one of the best in recent years.
A low-budget psychological thriller, the film sees talented programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) visit the isolated laboratory of the enigmatic and eccentric Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) for a week of tests directed at Bateman’s latest invention – an artificial intelligence called Ava (Alicia Vikander). At first, Alex Garland‘s script plays with a lot of the ideas you’d expect from this type of story but by the script’s end, things have gone well and truly off the rails.
It took nearly a decade for Shane Carruth to follow up on his exciting debut Primer, but somehow the perplexing and transcendent Upstream Color manages to find the writer/director (/actor/editor/cinematographer/composer) in an even more powerful and commanding position in the realm of independent science fiction.
Taking a far more human approach than Primer, Color follows two people, Jeff (Carruth) and Kris (a wonderful Amy Seimetz) whose lives become entangled in a mystery of parasites, pigs, orchids and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Like Primer, the film is a puzzle with a definite answer, yet the philosophical implications of the answer are entirely up to the viewer to grapple with. Poignant and unique even among experimental indie dramas, Upstream Color is a near-masterpiece of contemporary, humanist science fiction story telling.
The Infinite Man
As put by Larry in his review, “The Infinite Man is a low budget masterpiece. A prime example of a clever, high concept film, that was able to fit the constraints of its budget and deliver an intelligent, terrifically entertaining and ingeniously orchestrated narrative”.
Set in the Australian outback, the film sees Dean (Josh McConville) attempt to pull off the ultimate romantic getaway for his girlfriend Lana (Hannah Marshall) using time-travel to disastrous results. It’s a finely-tuned machine of a sci-fi film and a great primer for Midnight Special.
Midnight Special lands on the 21st of April.
Parts of this article were also contributed by Fergus Halliday.