Three new lo-fi sci-fi goodies you might want to check out

MAY 11 ― As we approach June, it means that the summer blockbuster movie season is just around the corner.

This was inaugurated by the box-office behemoth that is Avengers: Endgame two weeks back; it has already overtaken Titanic to become the second highest grosser of all time, just behind Avatar (with pretty good chances to overcome even that!).

So I think it's a good time to trawl around the far reaches of the genre movie world to see what's cool, or at least interesting.

While I did expect to encounter a lot of horror flicks, I didn't expect to come across quite a few sci-fi ones, albeit on the very low end of the budget scale.

Being the sucker for lo-fi sci-fi, I have to write about those this week. So if you're in an adventurous mood, why not give these smart little underdogs a peek? You might just like what you see...

Black Site

While I've never seen any of director Tom Paton's previous films Redwood and Pandorica, his work (actually more his ideas) on Black Site has made me more than curious to check them out.

Boldly coming up with the hook that mankind has been at war with the “Elder Gods” for a long time, often deporting them back to wherever they came from using spells and whatnot at a top secret black site facility.

As the years have gone by, there are fewer and fewer of these Elder Gods to deport, making the agency in charge of the matter less and less relevant, with funding reduced and the black site facility in a state of disrepair.

Working at the black site now is Ren, a woman who had a traumatic encounter with the elder god Erebus, who killed her parents, when she was a child.

Things get intense when Erebus is finally captured and is set to be deported, with Ren right there on site.

A totally unexpected combination of sci-fi, horror and action, Black Site plays a bit like a mash-up of Assault On Precinct 13 and The Void, but is a bit charmingly clunky when it comes to some of the action scenes.

But it's never boring, and Paton does quite well building up the suspense. An imperfect yet very interesting movie, Black Site is a nice underdog surprise, and those with sympathy for underdogs will find a lot to like in this one.

Stray

With visuals that clearly look like it has the biggest budget of the three films discussed here, Stray is an elegant supernatural thriller that has touches of the superhero origin story weaved in, making it a low-key but very stylish and exciting watch.

It begins with a female detective called Murphy who's just back on the job. She immediately comes across a case where a woman is found burnt to a crisp, but with no signs of fire around her.

It turns out that she was not burned, but petrified, and that the corpse looks to be 1,000 years old.

This brings her into the orbit of that woman's family ― a daughter, Nori, and an elderly mother.

Gradually Murphy realises that Nori is in possession of a unique supernatural power, but I won't spoil the lore of how this came about.

As I mentioned earlier, there are elements of the superhero origin story here, so there will be a hero and a villain with superpowers going at each other in the end.

But the unique Japanese lore in play here when it comes to Nori's abilities makes this film a unique experience.

And with a decent enough budget to allow subtle and elegant uses of CGI to illustrate their powers, Stray is a surprisingly effective genre movie.

In comic-speak, this may not be Marvel or DC, but this is good enough to be something that Milestone or Dynamite might put out.

Level 16

A wonderful sci-fi and horror hybrid, Level 16 is a dystopian prison film about a group of girls raised in a sort of boarding school where girls are raised to be perfectly obedient, clean and pristine for the families that they're told will one day adopt them.

Their whole lives they are taught, by teachers and through videos that tell them “curiosity is the first vice”, and “anger is the second vice.”

In short, these girls are raised to be massively passive. A clear allegory on patriarchy and 21st century gender politics, our entry point is a girl named Vivien, whom we first see punished as a little girl and is now dead set on obeying the rules at all costs.

After being assigned to a new level and a new dormitory, she meets an old friend Sophia, who more or less caused that traumatic punishment back then because of an innocent mistake.

Slowly they become friends again and Sophia lets Vivien in on the fact that she hasn't been taking her medication, and that there's more than meets the eye to their situation there.

This being a prison film, a jailbreak is of course in the cards, and film-maker Danishka Esterhazy has crafted a compelling little film with very impressive world-building, out of nothing more than just a few rooms acting as their dormitory block and the engrossing chemistry between the two girls, and of course the jeopardy awaiting the rest of the girls in the dormitory. Sweet!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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