6. Triangle (Christopher Smith, 2009)
The third feature film by UK director Christopher Smith, Triangle is a remarkably fun and underseen little horror flick, which replaces the comedic element from Smith’s earlier and also under-appreciated horror-comedy Severance with psychological thriller elements to great success.
Jess (Melissa George), a single mother with an autistic son, is preparing to go sailing with her buddy Greg (Michael Dorman) and a bunch of his friends. The group set out to sea on his private yacht but are surprised by a freak storm, which causes their boat to capsize.
The survivors manage to climb on the bottom of the boat and think that they are saved when they come across an ocean liner after the storm subsides. But once on board the huge ship, it turns out that the entire vessel is deserted whilst Jess starts to experience a repeated sense of déjà vu.
On top of that her companions seem to be knocked off one by one by a lone shadowy hooded figure who is stowed away on board. But when Jess manages to disarm and throw the character overboard before she herself is killed, the mystery is only just starting to unfold.
Triangle’s greatest strength is once again its mind-bending and well constructed screenplay, which takes a fresh approach to the concept of déjà vu whilst throwing in some genuine scares. Melissa George does an admirable job in the lead role and the sun soaked setting makes for an original background to this type of psychological slasher.
Both Melissa and the screenplay received nominations at the Fangoria Chainsaw as well as the Fright Meter Awards despite the fact that the film never made it to a theatrical release in most countries, which is a real shame. Not recommended for everybody but if you’re into this type of thing and have missed Triangle, it is well worth seeking out.
5. Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road (Bob Gale, 2002)
Now here’s a film that really feels like a Twilight Zone episode. Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road feels distinctly produced for television although it did in fact see a theatrical release.
Bob Gale, the man primarily known for having written the Back to the Future films, delivered his feature film directorial debut here and even though the production values aren’t much to write home about, the screenplay and cast, featuring James Marsden, Gary Oldman, Amy Smart, Christopher Lloyd, Kurt Russell, Chris Cooper and even a cameo by Michael J. Fox, make up for it in spades.
Neal Oliver (Marsden) is a guy from a wealthy family who doesn’t know what to do with his life. He’s working in a warehouse to support himself and his dream to become an artist but his dad wants him to study Law and his girlfriend has a psychology major and keeps analysing him.
Meanwhile, he keeps thinking of a girl he dreams about every night and who in fact inspires his art work. But when he makes a wish on his 22nd birthday as he blows out the candles on his birthday cake, Neal is overheard by One Wish Grant (Oldman), the mythological offspring of a Leprechaun and Cheyenne Native American, who decides to grant him his wish.
From the moment Neal asks for “an answer to his life”, he is given the bizarre task of delivering a package to a non-existent town using a non-existent highway, where past, present and future co-exist. Along the way, he will look for the girl of his dreams, explore his various own potential destinies and meet a series of eccentric characters.
A metaphysical road movie with both comedic and dramatic elements, Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road explores a clever premise through a highly original and funny screenplay and benefits greatly from its eclectic ensemble cast. Neal’s road trip is littered with interesting supporting characters as he has to make little detours along the way and it is primarily these episodes that all work very nicely.
The whole film has a bit of a retro feel to it, as if it should have been produced as an 1980’s fantasy adventure film. Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road is highly underseen and a film that has gone under the radar of too many but for fans of this kind of thing, it comes highly recommended.
4. Coherence (James Ward Byrkit, 2013)
The directorial debut of James Ward Byrkitt, who also wrote the screenplay, Coherence is an independent mind-bending science-fiction thriller with an intricate screenplay. The plot came about out of necessity as Byrkitt was forced to shoot in one location due to budget restraints and decided to mainly deal with improvisational actors to fill out the story and add extra character depth to a clearly character based story.
One the night that a comet is passing the earth within close proximity, four couples are gathering at a house to catch-up over a dinner party. As one of the couples is driving to the party, one of their mobile phones acts up and the screen shatters inexplicably.
Once at the house, this strange occurrence seems to be part of a series of other odd events as all guests notice they no longer have reception on their phones, another screen has shattered and soon after the electricity at the house goes too.
One of the guests tells the others that a century ago a similar comet caused all sorts of strange events whilst another guest informs them that his physicist brother had warned him that the comet might disrupt daily life on earth. When the group checks outside, they find that all electricity in the area has gone except for one house in the distance that still seems to have power.
Two people from the party decide to go to the other house but when they come back hurt, carrying a box, which contains photos of all the guests at their own party, and telling stories of an identical dinner party seemingly taking place at the other house, things soon become very weird, increasingly convoluted and menacing.
Coherence has three things going for it. A clever premise, which has been well thought out and written and keeps the viewer constantly guessing where things are going next. Some well written dialogue, delivered by a cast of talented unknowns, who manage to ground the whole surreal situation whilst adding depth to what is yet another story primarily driven by character.
Lastly the movie clearly proves that very much can be achieved by very little means. A strong feature film debut for director James Ward Byrkit, whose previous film credits included the screenplay for Rango and art direction duties on the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Coherence is pure Twilight Zone-like bliss extended to feature film length.
The film won Best Feature Debut as well as a Special Mention for Byrkit at the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival, Best Screenplay at the Austin Fantastic Fest and the same prize, in addition to the Carnet Jove Jury Award, at Stiges.
3. Another Earth (Mike Cahill, 2011)
If you prefer your science fiction with a romantic, dramatic or philosophical bend and more existentialist than action and CGI driven, Another Earth should be a movie for you.
Rhoda (Brit Marling) is an astrophysics student who is driving down the road when it’s announced over the radio that another planet, which looks just like earth and is approaching our world, has just been discovered. Looking out of her window to glimpse it in the night sky, she swerves into oncoming traffic and causes a head-on collision. She survives the crash, as does the driver of the other vehicle but his wife and kids die on the spot.
The story picks up four years later when Rhoda is released from prison. Haunted by guilt, she goes visit the man whose life she has ruined but when she faces him she can’t tell him the truth and pretends to be a cleaner who offers him a free trial period.
As time passes and she keeps coming over to clean his house, a bond develops between the two lonely souls and they even become lovers. Meanwhile it is discovered that the approaching planet is a duplicate of our own including a copy of each and every person on earth and both Rhoda and the man start wondering about how life has turned out for their doppelgangers.
Ultimately Rhoda is given the chance to find out as she wins a highly sought after ticket in a competition, which will send one civilian along on a mission to the other earth.
Written by director Mike Cahill and lead actress Brit Marling, Another Earth is a solid entry in the independently produced science fiction genre. Smartly written with a lot of heart and two very strong lead performances, Another Earth is a great recommendation if you like your science fiction small, intimate and thoughtful.
It also confirmed that Brit Marling was a force to be reckoned with when it comes to independent intelligent science-fiction films as it was released the same year as Sound of My Voice, which also made it onto this list. Mike Cahill and Brit Marling recently collaborated on another entry into the genre, I Origins, and whilst not as successful as their first effort, fans might one to check that title out too.
2. Timecrimes (Nacho Vigalondo, 2007)
Yet another amazingly assured directorial feature film debut, Timecrimes is a low budget and criminally underseen Spanish time travelling thriller directed by Nacho Vigalondo, who also wrote the screenplay as well as appearing in the movie himself.
Timecrimes tells the story of a man who is spending the weekend in the country with his girlfriend. He spots a beautiful woman in a nearby house undressing and goes to examine things close-up. When he arrives he finds the woman lying in the grass and is attacked by a man with a bandaged face.
He flees, finds refuge in a nearby research facility and is offered a place to hide by a scientist. When he emerges from his hiding place it turns out he was led into a time machine and that he has travelled one hour back in time. And so starts an increasingly bizarre sequence of events.
With virtually no special effects and basically taking place in one extended location, Timecrimes is another entry on this list that completely relies on its intricate plot and the conundrums of time travel. Upon closer examination it might not make that much sense but whilst the ride lasts, it certainly is a fun one.
Timecrimes won Best New Artist/Film Awards from the Austin Film Critics Association, the Cinema Writers Circle in Spain and at the Turia Awards, whilst also winning Audience Awards at both the Philadelphia and the New York City Horror Film Festivals. In addition, it won major prizes at both the Amsterdam and Austin Fantasy Film Festivals and was nominated for Best Film at Stiges.
1. The Man From Earth (Richard Shenkman, 2007)
Based on the final screenplay by Jerome Bixby, who was best known for his stories that inspired an actual Twilight Zone episode and the movie Fantastic Voyage as well as four episodes of Star Trek, The Man From Earth is a low budget cult science fiction movie directed by Richard Schenkman.
Professor John Oldman (David Lee Smith) is leaving his job and town after a period of ten years when his colleagues surprise him at his cabin to throw him a farewell party. Amongst them are a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychiatrist, an art history professor, an archaeologist and a historian.
When they try to find out why John is in fact leaving he starts telling them an hypothetical story about an immortal man who has lived for more than 14 thousand years and who has to move on every ten years for people not to notice that he in fact doesn’t age. Slowly but surely John gives up the fictional aspect of his story and admits to being that man.
Naturally his colleagues don’t believe him and each of them questions him in relation to their own academic discipline. When the conversation finally lands on religion, John’s responses make tensions run high as he reveals details which shake some fundamental beliefs in the room.
Made for a budget of $200.000, set in one location and basically dealing with a bunch of people having a conversation without any special effects or action whilst looking like it was shot for television, The Man From Earth is another little independent feature which primarily succeeds because of its clever premise and well written screenplay.
The film barely had a theatrical release and was soon after released on DVD but was only picked up by a larger audience when it was shared illegally through torrents on the internet, making it a small cult sensation. So much so, that the actual producer of the film has thanked the torrent community for giving his film a much larger exposure than it would otherwise have ever received.
The film did win Best feature and Best Screenplay at the Rhode Island International Film Festival as well as Best Screenplay and the Youth Jury Award for Best Film at the Málaga International Week of Fantastic Cinema.
Author Bio: Emilio has been a movie buff for as long as he can remember and holds a Masters Degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Amsterdam. Critical and eclectic in taste, he has been described to “love film but hate all movies”. For daily suggestions on what to watch, check out his Just Good Movies Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/goodmoviesuggestions.