Apr 29, 2018

Primer, and more: Sci-fi films with big ideas and a low budget

BYGautham Shenoy

Had enough of big-budget extravaganzas where it looks like they spent a lot of money on a lot of things except a writer? Or a movie with stars, but no idea to begin with? Well here then, are just some sci-fi movies from the first 18 years of this century that prove that you don’t need big budgets, or big stars, to ask big questions or tell a good sci-fi story. Movies made on a budget of less than $100,000 or thereabouts.

Primer (2004)

Over the years, Primer has gained quite the cult following for its heady mix of experimental storytelling and mind-bending time travel story. Made by engineer-turned-filmmaker Shane Carruth for $7,000 (in 2004), Primer is the kind of film that doesn’t shy away from asking big questions about the implications of time travel, while not pandering to the audience. The film revolves around two entrepreneurs who accidentally invent the time machine in their garage and end up setting off a chain reaction of time loops, alternate futures and doubles. If you haven’t watched this, do so now. Then watch it again to get a grip on what really happened the first time you saw it.

Coherence (2013)

Eight friends meet over dinner on the night of an astronomical anomaly. As a comet passes over the skies above, the power goes out. The friends, out to investigate, realise that the comet has opened the door to a parallel dimension, with other (& many) versions of themselves. Realties begin to criss-cross as one of the protagonists decides to make the most of the situation and find herself a better reality than the one she’s stuck in currently, which isn’t quite working out for her. Written and directed by James Ward Bykrit, and shot in his own home, Coherence is a movie that unfolds like a puzzle and viewers are encouraged to keep an eye out for the small details as they grapple with the larger puzzle.
Also read: What if you found out one of your friends is 14,000 years old? Watch this film.

Another Earth (2001)

Introspective and philosophical, this science fiction drama begins with a new planet appearing in the sky. And on further inspection, it is revealed that it is another Earth, quite possibly a carbon copy, with everything – and everyone – duplicated. Another Earth was born out of discussions between director Mike Cahill and lead actor, Brit Marling, the co-writers of the film, as to what it would be like if one were to encounter one’s own self. And it is this question the movie explores, through the experiences of the lead protagonist who harbours dreams of visiting this earth and meeting the other version of herself, but who gets involved in a tragic accident that starts the movie as the viewer is drawn into a well-spun drama of metaphors and high concept speculation.

The Infinite Man (2014)

The Infinite Man is that rare kind of sci-fi film, which is also a romcom. And it’s also a clever time travel film. A film with only 3 characters (not counting multiple avatars of these brought on by overlapping time loops), The Infinite Man is about a gifted scientist who just wants to have a perfect romantic weekend with his girlfriend. So he recreates an anniversary at a deserted motel, only to have the ex-boyfriend gatecrash the weekend. Believing his girlfriend to be still in love with her ex, the scientist breaks up with her only to regret it. The desire to set things right becomes his motivation to build a time travel device over the year, so that they can go back to that weekend and do things the right way. What begins as fun and comedy, soon builds up to a complex web of events as future and past events build up, the same characters bump confusedly into each other, leading to hilarity, absurd situations and the scientist trying to set timeline(s) straight.
Also read: #NotAllSuperheroes: Superhero films that break the mould

Extracted (2012)

Extracted – also called Extraction in some regions – is again an indie production that tackles a big idea with a low budget and some good writing. A science fiction thriller, Extracted is a tale of intrigue, twists and turns revolving around two main characters. The first is a scientist who has invented a machine that can insert a person into the sub-conscious mind of another person. He is soon coerced into entering the mind of the second main character, who happens to be a suspected, killer to see if he is guilty of the murder he’s charged with. While the scientist is able to find some kind of an answer, he finds himself trapped in the killers mind, thanks to a machine malfunction, unable to get out, as his body lies in a coma for years. To say anymore would be to spoilt it, but rest assured, the twists reveal themselves, and Extracted lives up to its tag as a thriller and also as a thriller of the psychological kind where we get to really see inside a killer’s mind via the scientist who is trapped within.
So if you were looking for some good weekend viewing, these would be it. Happy viewing!
Live long and prosper!

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Gautham Shenoy is a writer of FactorDaily.