By Nick Milligan
For sci-fi purists, discovering a quality modern film from the beloved genre is as precious a commodity as spice to the inhabitants of Dune.
The science fiction genre has found new life on television, given the success and overall quality of Stranger Things and Westworld. Amazon Studios’ adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, a haunting look at life in an alternate history where Nazi Germany and the Japanese were victorious in WWII, is now into its third season. For nightmarish, near-future travels, a sci-fi fan need look no further than Netflix’s Black Mirror. In fact, this is shaping as the year that Netflix stakes a claim as entertainment’s home of original sci-fi features, with originals Okja and The Discovery both looking the goods – and featuring big casts. Even the adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale is heading for television instead of the silver screen.
Television has its benefits. You can binge on the sofa for hours, safe in your own home, parked in front of a marginally affordable hi-def flatscreen. But there are those of us that still yearn for the true cinematic experience. Purists who want to trap themselves in a cinema and endure a piece of transcendental escapism. Is that too much to ask?
Let’s continue to hold out hope. Here are six films heading our way that show promise.
THE BAD BATCH
Release: June 2017
The basic pitch is enough to whet the appetite: “A dystopian love story in a Texas wasteland and set in a community of cannibals.” The Bad Batch screened at the Venice Film Festival last year and sparked a small bidding war, which was ultimately won by Netflix for SVOD and NEON for film distribution rights.
Created by writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour, who made her name with the acclaimed Iranian vampire indie A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Bad Batch appears to be a highly stylised romp through post-Apocalyptic America (we’re perhaps not far away).
Emerging actress Suki Waterhouse plays Arlen who, judging from the teaser trailer, gives an arm and a leg to join a society of cannibals before ingratiating herself into this lively community. Featuring an impressive cast – Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Jason Momoa, Diego Luna, Giovanni Ribisi – The Bad Batch seems to be a George Miller meets Quentin Tarantino meets Sam Peckinpah dalliance in the desert. Fun times.
Release: September 2017
All eyes on Alex Garland. A novelist (The Beach) and acclaimed screenwriter (28 Days Later, Sunshine), Garland gave us a truly stunning science fiction film with the Academy Award-nominated Ex Machina in 2015.
His next effort as writer-director is an adaptation of the 2014 Jeff VanderMeer novel Annihilation, the first in a series of books called the “Southern Reach Trilogy”. The story follows a team of four – a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor – who venture into Area X, a place cut off from civilisation. Teams have gone before them – and seemingly not returned.
VanderMeer is an acclaimed exponent of the “New Weird” sub-genre, a mix of horror and speculative science fiction. With a cast that includes Ex Machina star Oscar Isaac, Natalie Portman, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, Annihilation certainly shows a lot of promise.
Release: March 31
On the near horizon is a Netflix original called The Discovery. Set in a dreary and bleak dystopian world where the afterlife has been proven to exist, meaning people must be constantly persuaded not to kill themselves, the movie stars Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons and Riley Keough. It will premiere at Sundance and then head straight to streaming via Netflix on March 31. Welcome to the future.
Release: 2017 (month TBC)
One of the more impressive hard sci-fi flicks of recent years was South Korean director Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer. His follow-up, Okja, is co-produced by Netflix and, while the details are mysterious, sounds like another visually impressive film from the filmmaker. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton, Lily Collins, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun and Giancarlo Esposito, the story follows “a young girl named Mija [who] risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a massive animal named Okja.” One might assume it will be a “kidsy” premise, but based on the director’s previous work, like The Host, this could be deceptively dark.
HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES
Release: 2017 (month TBC)
The premise sounds a little bit like Jonathan Glazer’s mesmerising Under the Skin – an angelic alien walks amongst mere mortals, an outsider wading through the multi-faceted depravity of the human race. But How To Talk to Girls at Parties might be a more joyful and wicked affair, as it’s based on a Neil Gaiman short story and is directed by John Cameron Mitchell (Rabbit Hole, Shortbus, Hedwig and the Angry Inch). It’s ’70s setting will no doubt lace the film with excellent music.
The pitch is as follow: “An alien touring the galaxy breaks away from her group and meets two young inhabitants of the most dangerous place in the universe: the London suburb of Croydon.”
Elle Fanning appears to be playing one of the interplanetary gals, in a cast that also features Nicole Kidman (as Queen Boadicea, who has a sexy Bowie-in-Labyrinth vibe) and Matt Lucas.
Release: 2017 (month TBC)
It’s a little hard to keep up with James Franco, as he now stars in, writes and directs about 50 movies a year. One of the flicks on this heartthrob’s creative conveyor belt is Future World, another collaboration with writer/director/cinematographer Bruce Thierry Cheung. The latter was director of photography on Franco’s recent Steinbeck adaptation In Dubious Battle and here he co-directs and co-writes this post apocalyptic thriller.
Bearing no connection to the maligned sequel to Michael Crighton’s classic Westworld, this film is “set in the barren landscape of a post-apocalyptic world, where a young Prince from the Oasis (one of the last known safe-havens) and a robot named Ash go on a daring journey of self-discovery – one that winds through the violent and desolate world of the Wastelands.”
Franco’s dogged prolificness has been blamed for the “quantity over quality” of his output, though you can only admire the seemingly endless fire he has for his varied crafts. However Future World could be an interesting piece. He’s certainly drawn together a fascinating cast. Milla Jovovich and Franco himself are the major stars in an ensemble studded with musicians – Snoop Dogg, Method Man and Twin Shadow. The previously mentioned Suki Waterhouse (The Bad Batch) and Lucy Liu also appear.
Keep your eye out for that first trailer.