21 Great Lo-Fi Sci-Fi Films You Need To Watch
Lo-Fi Sci-Fi is an emerging genre of the last decade or so inspired by Mumblecore and budgetary constraints. The name is derived from ‘Low Fidelity’ and ‘Science Fiction’, seemingly meant to convey the low budget, amateur approach of filming a Science Fiction movie. This is not to dumb down the genre at all but portray its indie status devoid of any Hollywood blockbuster characteristics that many contemporary Science Fiction films have. New Sci-Fi cinema has unfortunately began to suffer in thematic substance and has been generally made for commercial mass audiences with an ‘artistic’ endeavor to make it big at the box office.
The films of this emanating underground genre have similar, but at the same time, completely disparate themes and elements, which can make this genre hard to exactly pin down. As there is no definitive manifesto written on Lo-Fi Sci-Fi, characteristics such as a shoestring budget or outer space themes do not necessarily have to be abided by; this is no Dogme 95, yet. This list is a collection of Science Fiction films, not your generic blockbuster ones, these films are far more interesting, obscure, philosophical, mind bending and often intelligent.
Please comment below with any suggestions of films you may feel fit this genre. Apologies if I missed out on any but this is simply a list of 21 of them.
21. Computer Chess (2013)
Once referred to as the “Godfather or Mumblecore”, director Andrew Bujalski delivers us this eccentrically droll and experimental piece of nostalgic filmmaking that proves itself original and outlandishly satisfying. Shot in a monotonous black and white, Computer Chess not only resides within disparate genres such as Sci-Fi, Comedy and Mumblecore; it eclipses them at the same time into a retro dream/nightmare. Chosen by Indiewire’s critics pick, it landed at number eight of the best movies of 2013, praised with words such as “deadpan, absurdist and off-putting”.
The thing that was most astounding about Computer Chess though was the viewer’s ability to determine whether this film was actually shot in the eighties and these characters were actually real attendees of this bizarre convention. Maybe we wanted these characters so much to be real people that we truckled to cinematic escapism or what Coleridge described as a suspension of disbelief.
Watch this movie if: You enjoy chess.
20. The American Astronaut (2001)
Take the look of Lynch’s Eraserhead, the concept of Zachariah and Buck Rogers on some bad LSD and you have The American Astronaut in all its bewildering, Lo-Fi Sci-Fi, campy ness. Again, shot in a grainy black and white, this Space Western/Musical sometimes feels like a surrealist Film Noir, belonging only too the north north weird west.
Watch this movie if: You Enjoyed Englund’s Zachariah, Acid Western films, Lynch’s Eraserhead, Space Western Musicals, Crichton’s West World, the hybrid amalgamation of most genres squeezed into a Laurel and Hardy skit directed by Salvador Dali.
19. Mars (2010)
Lead singer of Volcano, I’m still excited!!! Mark Duplass, a notable founder of the Mumblecore aesthetic stars in this hybrid tale of Romance, Comedy, Science Fiction and Fantasy. Mars is told via the vivacious style of a graphic novel by director Geoff Marslet, who used a unique animation process specifically developed for the film. With hints of Linklater’s outward contemplation, this film takes a light hearted, low energy and low budget approach to mans fetish for the unknown. Watch this film if you can find it and be rewarded with its heart warming quirkiness and pensive undertones of why do we want to know what’s out there?
Watch this movie if: You like Mark Duplass, the whimsical quirkiness of Juno, the look of Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, Mumblecore cinema, The oddities of space travel.
18. Christmas On Mars (2008)
Christmas On Mars is a fantastical and disturbing humanistic freak-out Sci-Fi film from the Space Rock band The Flaming Lips. Written and Directed by the band’s front man Wayne Coyne and featuring the entire band in cast, this psychedelic, hallucinogenic, lysergic trip has more in common with The Mighty Boosh than any other space travel film. The soundtrack consists of The Flaming Lips own music and in-between bouts of ‘Eat your own spaceship’ and ‘In excelsior vaginalistic’, we are asked to “Imagine if Stanley Kubrick, Frank Capra and Jim Jarmusch got into a bar brawl and The Flaming Lips won”.
Watch this movie if: You enjoy the films of Lynch, Jarmusch, and Tarkovsky. If you like The Flaming Lips, Psychedelic music, Frank Zappa, Syd Barrett, Fred Armisen, Salvador Dali.
17. Upstream Color (2013)
Nine years after giving us Primer, Shane Carruth writes, directs, edits, composes, produces, casts and stars in the ultimate artsy, pretentious, confusing, dreamlike Upstream Color. A blue powder not dissimilar to Scopolamine mixed with DMT is extracted from a worm/parasite and used to brainwash and control the mind of a young woman. As she finally gains control of her body and mind her life becomes entangled with a man who may have suffered from the same fate and both set off on a Memento like journey to discover themselves.
The earth and nature play a huge role in this film along with the connection of Transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau and his meditative journal Walden. This movie is not easy to watch and is definitely not for everyone, but alas, as cliché as it sounds the viewer will be rewarded by sticking it out till the end. Either this or they will be fucking confused.
Watch this movie if: You liked Carruth’s previous film Primer, Jones’ Moon, Carax’s Holy Motors, Malick’s the Tree Of Life, Thoreau’s Walden.
16. Antiviral (2012)
From the semen of legendary Canadian director David Cronenberg comes his son Brandon Cronenberg’s auspicious debut feature in all its macabre, surreal and astonishingly original goodness. Caleb Landry Jones plays (Syd March), an unearthly pale employee at a clinic that sells injections of live viruses harvested from sick celebrities to obsessed fans.
This dark dystopian Sci-Fi sometimes feels not that far away as Antiviral comments on today’s celebrity obsessed culture and rising trend of sticking needles in your face as disease becomes fashionable. The scene where Syd’s mouth surrealistically morphs into a rusty looking grate and then propels blood is enough to watch this film alone. Find it and watch it!
Watch this movie if: You like disturbing Surrealist Horror films, Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In, Cosmatos’ Beyond The Black Rainbow, any of David Cronenberg’s films, Body Horror.
15. Science Of Sleep (2006)
Science Of Sleep is like a Surrealistic jigsaw puzzle that can only be figured out whilst asleep. Michael Gondry, the director of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind takes us on a vivid trip into Stéphane Miroux complicated mind, acted by the living legend Gael García Bernal. Set in the land of cinema, Paris, Stéphane becomes infatuated with his neighbor Stéphanie played by the beautiful Charlotte Gainsbourg and then weird stuff begins to happen. The blossoming romance finally awakens the sleeping confidence that the withdrawn Stéphane was previously capable of displaying only in his dreams.
Borderline Mumblecore but more interesting, Science Of Sleep takes us to Surreal dreamscape maybe painted by a ten year old Salvador Dali and boasts tracks by The Velvet Underground and The White Stripes.
Watch this movie if: You like the minds of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman specifically Being John Malkovich, Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Van Dormael’s Mr Nobody.
14. Monsters (2010)
Another intelligent, low budget, independent debut by director Gareth Edwards. Monsters recycles the quarantined “Infected zone” grand narrative that many films such as District 9 fatigue, but instead, approaches it from an indie stance resulting in a postmodern Sci-Fi with a brain and heart. Released by troubadour film distributor Magnolia Pictures (as are many of the films on this list), this is a truly exciting take on contemporary Sci-Fi which “channels the upriver nightmares or Herzog and Coppola”.
Watch this movie if: You liked District 9, Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Balaguero and Plaza’s Rec, Independent cinema, Carpenter’s The Thing.
13. Another Earth (2011)
Another Earth is a classic example of Lo-Fi Sci-Fi independent cinema reaching for the stars with the conspicuous endeavor to achieve an epic status with only a pocketful of change for the budget. What seems synonymous with this genre is that most directors’ debut film procures this Lo-Fi distinction and director Mike Cahill is no different. This was also Brit Marling’s debut feature film as an actress which she also co wrote and produced. Brilliantly shot to create an intoxicatingly slow world, this independent thought-provoking film succeeds what it set out to do an gives a nod to Tarkovsky’s Solaris, which also deals with another parallel Earth.
Watch this movie if: You like Brit Marling, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Von Trier’s Melancholia, solid American contemporary independent cinema, Fassbinder’s World On A Wire.
12. Primer (2004)
Two young engineers working in a garage accidentally discover a means of time travel. Mumblecore dialogue and miniscule budget (reportedly $7000). Is this the epitome of the Lo-Fi Sci-Fi genre? Shane Carruth, the hero of the film wrote, directed, produced, edited, composed music for and even acted in this movie. As a graduate with a degree in mathematics and a former engineer, Carruth chose not to simplify the dialogue for the sake of the audience but instead bombard the viewer with philosophical implications and complex technical jargon.
Simply go to the films Wiki page and try to fathom the operation of time travel in Primer diagram. The result is a very watchable film for an extremely small budget and do it yourself mentality, which cemented itself as one of the best time travel indie films.
Watch this movie if: You enjoy time travel, physics and science, mathematics, watchable low budget films, the first bright lights of an upcoming director, Dukic’s Wristcutters: A Love Story, you are a nerd.
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