With Canadian director Jacques Villeneuve releasing Blade Runner 2049 this year and the great Canadian/Spain collaborative effort Colossal released earlier this year, it seemed only fitting that we take a look at five of the great Canadian produced/co-produced Science Fiction films from the past that maybe you’ve never heard of or seen.
I had only a couple of rules, but mainly, a good portion of the production had to be Canadian. For example, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is listed as a Canadian production, but it shares that distinction with 5 other countries so it doesn’t count. Also, being filmed in Canada doesn’t make it a Canadian production necessarily, despite what some may say. If that was the case many Hollywood films would be considered Canadian since many are filmed in Canada every year, mostly in Toronto and Vancouver.
Okay, now, we’ve all heard of awesome films such as Johnny Mnemonic, eXistenZ, Videodrome, Naked Lunch, and Scanners, but here are 5 Sci-fi films that you should watch given the opportunity…in no particular order.
Inspired by a Twilight Zone episode, Cube was released in 1997 and was directed and co-written by Vincenzo Natali, it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival where it won the award for Best Canadian First Feature Film. The film follows six different people, each from a very different walk of life, as they try to escape a giant cube-like structure with thousands of possible rooms filled with traps. Only by working together and utilizing each of the individual skills can they survive. Without knowing who their captor is, each person has to play a part in their attempt at escape to find answers as to why they’ve been imprisoned in the first place leading ultimately to decide who lives and who dies.
The “cube” shaped room design and the surreal concept of the film recalls elements of earlier industrialized film techniques from the 60s and 70s using linear equations as a basis for the narrative. This plus the unique idea of naming each of the characters after real-life prison’s to match their corresponding personalities (Kazan, Rennes, Quentin, Holloway, Alderson, and Leavenworth) was considered noteworthy at the time.
The ending is left purposely open-ended and left up to the viewer’s own interpretation much like contemporary “trap” genre franchise SAW. However, the film did spawn a series and we find out in the third film who the “controller” is and the original purpose of the “cube” itself.
It’s worth noting, this film predates a lot of the films we see today with similar “escape” motif’s and it’s uniqueness at the time makes it a fun film to watch, in spite of production issues and static acting.
Another one from director/writer Vincenzo Natali is his 2003 effort titled, Nothing, which is about two best friends and housemates who have each experienced the worst days of their lives only to find out that the outside world has been mysteriously converted into an empty white void.
I won’t spoil too much because it’s better left to be discovered, but the film is essentially about friendship and being able to let go of materialistic endeavors in pursuit of the true meaning of relationships and interaction.
Much like the blank surroundings the two friends encounter, the film is wildly open to interpretation and the viewers imagination. In fact, once you get towards the end of the film and things start to make sense, you are once again driven back to expounding you’re own conclusions about the lessons being taught.
In this respect, the film stays with you for some time making it an interesting style of interpretive art when the canvas is blank, and the viewer left to paint the picture. This film skews the line between silliness and existential in a way few movies do these days, and that makes it a worthy endeavor.
Long before hits like eXistenZ and Naked Lunch came out, David Cronenberg gave us 1979’s The Brood starring Oliver Reed and Samantha Edgar. The synopsis is listed as, “The film follows a man uncovering an eccentric psychologist’s therapy techniques on his institutionalized wife, amidst a series of brutal murders committed from an offspring of mutant children that coincides with the investigations.”
The Brood toils in complicated subjects like Parthenogenesis and Eugenics which led to audiences being split at the time. Although over the years people have come around and it’s gained a cult following. Originally, the ending was cut from the theatrical release due to concerns that the lead character played by Edgar, was eating her “brood” offspring. This was not the case and subsequently, the ending has been added on thanks to digital releases. Something worth noting, this would be Howard Shore’s first film score and first of many collaborations with David Cronenberg throughout their careers.
Not to be outdone by his father, writer/director Brandon Cronenberg gave us 2012’s horror/sci-fi feature, Antiviral, his first feature-length film.
It’s oddly a simple film-noir murder/mystery premise with a not too distant future sci-fi/horror hook. Caleb Landry Jones plays an employee at a clinic that sells injections of live viruses harvested from sick celebrities to obsessed fans. He also dabbles in the aftermarket and when a celebrity dies of the same virus he’s smuggling out in himself, the plot ensues as it’s a race against time motif.
The movie is overwrought at times and daring at others but an interesting premise for sure. Also, quite a debut for young Cronenberg but one would suspect daddy wasn’t too far behind. And why not really, if you had access to one of the great horror/sci-fi minds, you’d access it.
Interestingly enough, most of the film was shot pre-prod with a lot of the close-ups of blood drawn scenes being real. While some folks were turned off by the gore, it would go on to win Best Canadian First Feature Award at TIFF and show at the Cannes Festival as well.
In the super awesome fun category, director/writers Francois Simard and Anouk Whissell gave us 2015’s Turbo Kid starring Munro Chambers and Michael Ironside. The film is not unlike most post-apocalyptic settings a la Road Warrior or Book of Eli only this one is much more camp and comedy than any of those, but surprisingly gory.
The production is as you’d expect from something that cost very little to make but I have to say it’s a blast and highly addictive viewing. You’ll be tempted to turn it off several times as you may question your own self-importance or intelligence but before you know it, it’s over, and you’ll be happy you stuck it out.
The dedication to those involved make it fun and entertaining for adults and the 80’s references will harken those back to better times, but this is meant for a younger audience. And while the kids may not get all the obscure references, they’ll enjoy them nonetheless and the simple plot thanks to Chambers and Laurence Leboeuf spry performances.
Well, there you have 5 Canadian Sci-Fi productions that you’ve maybe never heard of unless you’ve gone down the rabbit hole of sci-fi cinema. There are many more but these 5 represent some of the better ones, in my opinion, outside of the already well-known ones mentioned earlier. I definitely think it’s an area we should explore more in Canada and the hope is with people like Jacque Villeneuve directing films such as the great Arrival from last year and the soon to be released Blade Runner 2049, will go a long way towards that.
Till next time…