October 22, 2021: a date that for many science fiction fans cannot come soon enough. It is then that those of us who will not attend film festivals will finally be able to watch Denis Villeneuve’s long awaited “Dune”, either at the cinema or on HBO Max. Amusingly, a few enterprising independents are betting that some impatient viewers don’t pay much attention and are drawn to the UK micro-budget production “Dune Drifter”, with its deliberately archaic aesthetic, or the “Dune World” , insanely inept, which involves “worm-like beasts” on a “hostile and barren planet.” Better check out this month’s pick of overlooked sci-fi nuggets, none of which attempt to rub shoulders with the universe by Frank Herbert.
Rent or buy on most major platforms.
Henriksen plays an Arizona quack whose ill-gotten powers end up making bullied teenager Kelly (Elijah Nelson) nearly invincible. This, in turn, allows Kelly to take bloody revenge on the football players who ruined her life.
It’s disappointing to see Henriksen come out so quickly, but Martin Guigui’s film maintains tremendous cheap and nasty momentum. It’s as close as we’re getting close to the classic 1970s or 80s B fare today, with endearing off-brand actors taking that entertaining twist on overpowered high school kids.
Rent it or buy it on most major platforms.
Many of the greatest sci-fi movies camouflage allegorical messages with action-oriented storylines – looking at you, “Planet of the Apes.” And then there are movies like “Mnemophrenia,” where what you see is what you get: a thoughtful discussion about the nature of memory and what makes us human. It may sound like a lecture throughout a feature film, especially since director Eirini Konstantinidou teaches film studies at the University of Essex. But “Mnemophrenia” strikes a delicate balance between ideas and relationships, and has genuine warmth. The film is set in an all too relatable near future where virtual reality has become so mainstream that it has re-energized people’s sense of identity – the title refers to a condition (invented but credible) “characterized by the coexistence of artificial realities and memories.
For some characters, mnemophrenia is not a problem but “a new way of being”, another step in the long game of human evolution. Others are less taken with the inability to tell right from wrong, the real experience of VR travel. They don’t find life in a particularly desirable perpetual holodeck, let alone the possible neurological effects of the new “total cinema”, which reproduces touch, taste and smell. At the heart of the film is a difficult question: does it matter if something is wrong while it feels real?
Stream it on Shudder.
That this South African film of alien possession is airing on the Shudder horror platform is a good indication that it is not for the faint of heart. Just be aware that the alien presence is entering Barry (Gary Green) ‘s body through what looks like every possible hole, as well as some newly sculpted holes. And that’s just the beginning.
Barry wasn’t the healthiest vehicle for exploring Earth: a heroin addict, this hapless alien doesn’t even have a break at home, where he constantly bickers with his wife, Suz (Chanelle de Jager), in a hysterical mix of English and Afrikaans. So maybe hosting a horrible tourist isn’t the worst thing that can happen to them. The film is essentially a series of encounters as the newly empowered Barry, eyes bulging out suggesting that everything is worse than usual, falters in the city.
Ryan Kruger’s feature debut has a relentless gonzo vibe – get ready for drugs, sex, and a quick, revolting pregnancy – that sits somewhere between the cinema of 1980s transgression and the outrageous world of the music duo. South African Die Antwoord. He’s so determined to be cult that he cries out to be watched on VHS.
Ray (Dean Imperial) is so desperate to earn the money to pay for his sick brother’s care that he signs up to work for CBLR, one of the big players in the exciting new world of “quantum wiring” – he there is even an industry expo, where employees can purchase accessories.
Quantum wiring and CBLR are terrifying in a familiar way: a new monopoly industry that spews “disruptive” platitudes (its slogan is “challenge your status quo”) while preventing those who do not adhere to it from fully functioning. It is even worse for employees, who have to pay the honor of working by buying a medallion, and then are subjected to constant surveillance.
All of this makes Noah Hutton’s film terribly dark and menacing, but “Lapsis” is a sweet, often awkward satire directed by an endearing doofus that ends up finding resistance in the person of fellow bee Anna (Madeline Wise). Make no mistake, though: Observations about the ever-growing power of technology and the sequence of exploitation of the concert economy land with uncomfortable familiarity.
Surely you might wonder if British director Ben Wheatley’s eco-mystical mind’s journey qualifies as science fiction. Written during the lockdown and shot under Covid-19 restrictions, the film is set during a pandemic and references isolation and successive waves of the disease. The premise is a bit on the nose – we’re still going through this and may not be ready for the docu-fiction version just yet – but Wheatley is quickly taking off in unexpected and completely bizarre directions. That his goal is to create some sort of freak-folk fairy tale is obvious from the start: Alma (Ellora Torchia) guides Martin (Joel Fry), a scientist, through a mysterious forest straight out of the Grimm Brothers. He doesn’t seem worried when she tells him about a woodland spirit called Parnag Fegg. Soon, however, they realize that the animals seem to have disappeared: “they smell something”, and in turn, we feel that something is not good.
Wheatley adds to this setting with abandon, scenes of body horror that would make a podiatrist cover their eyes with many directors’ favorite trope of “I can’t think of anything else to do” – hallucinations. The film overplays the cryptic card but remains absorbing for a simple reason: you never know what will follow.