10 Great Recent Sci-fi Movies You May Have Missed

5. The Similars (2015)

The Similars

Mexican filmmaker Isaac Ezban turned heads with his 2014 sci-fi success The Incident, and now his speedy follow-up is the stylish, strange, and artfully atmospheric The Similars.

Set in an eerie, out-of-the-way bus station in 1968, this Twilight Zone tribute – complete with a Rod Serling-style narrator – is fuelled and fed by an economical understanding of shots, cuts, and reveals that are rich in ambience and high in anxiety.

The Similars intentionally presses plausibility, but it’s a genre film with genuflections as wildly varied as Orson Welles, the Evil Dead, Alfred Hitchcock, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Fans of self-reflexive cinema without a safety net will rightly cling to Ezban, a new cinematic voice who’s called and commanded our attention, and you won’t look at heavy rains quite the same way again, either.


4. The Endless (2017)

Having already established themselves as impressive innovators in the low-budget but high-concept realm of mumblecore sci-fi/horror films (Resolution [2013] and Spring [2014] are must-see movies for genre junkies), the writer-director duo of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson present their most ambitious and riskiest move yet with The Endless.

The filmmaking pair behind the lens also take the two lead roles for this refreshingly unconventional trip through the twilight zone, as protective and skeptical older brother Justin (Benson) and younger, more unaffected Aaron (Moorhead) find themselves in a bit of a rut. There’s a delicious irony that the two men find their present idle –– a professedly endless loop of shit jobs, junk food, and borderline bankruptcy –– plagued with a yearning to return once more to Arcadia.

Jokingly but with a grain of truth referred to as “a UFO death cult” and one that, a decade prior the pair barely escaped, the arrival of a videotape tempting the brothers to return one last time, has them motivated once more. Will they journey back to the ashram out in the arid desert? Do you even have to ask?

There’s no one making films quite like Benson and Moorhead, who seem so well-suited to the manufacture of the juicy setup, the buddy-buddy banter, the allure of the forbidden, the draw of the dark, and the suggestion of what just might be beyond. This is, of course, what horror fans really want, with no skimping of the fun stuff, and that’s exactly what The Endless delivers.


3. Okja (2017)

An affecting and exciting tale of interspecies friendship and atrocious truths, Okja judiciously swings from caustic action-adventure to full-on horror film with intelligence, aplomb, and a shit ton of risk-taking.

Deftly directed by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (who co-wrote the movie with Jon Ronson), Okja continues his ever audacious mixing of tonalities in a tale that begins as a satire before surfacing as a romping comedy bubbling over with charm and considerable magnetism as we follow a young girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her enormous companion animal, Okja.

And then Bong pulls the audience along with the looming apprehension that something unspeakable awaits Okja, a beast destined for the catastrophe of the factory farm, the killing floor, to be crushed in the cruel, profit-driven ragwheel of capitalism.

As with Bong’s previous work, most notably Memories of Murder (2003) –– which contains explicit slapstick interspersed with grim melodrama –– and Snowpiercer (2013) –– which integrates bleak futuristic sci-fi spectacle with diverting conceptual folly –– this stunning film takes many risks and results in a deeply touching treatise on animal welfare and the bonds of friendship.


2. Hard to Be a God (2013)

Hard to Be A God

The long-gestating final film from Russian cinema heavyweight Alexei Gherman (My Friend Ivan Lapshin [1985]) spent decades in pre-production, was begun in 2000, filmed over a six year period, spent years after that in post-production, and was finally finished posthumously by Gherman’s son, and released theatrically in 2013. Hard To Be a God is that rare reward of visceral cinema, and an epic in every sense of the word.

Adapted from the underground sci-fi cult novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky –– the sibling duo who penned Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) –– Gherman’s crowning achievement takes place on an alien planet Arkanar, eerily like our own only here the Renaissance never happened, resulting in a never-ending Middle Ages nightmare.

Gherman’s richly detailed black-and-white cinematography recreates Bosch-like tableau and Brueghelian details of barbarity and beauty. If a more immersive, ingrained and extravagant film than this exists, I’ve yet to see it, and no one who’s seen Hard To Be a God will ever forget it.


1. Thelma (2017)


Joachim Trier’s (Oslo, August 31st [2011], Louder Than Bombs [2015]) latest film is about a college freshman from the sticks, new to the big city, with a religious background and telekinetic powers. So yeah, of course there’s some comparisons to the Brian De Palma classic Carrie (1976) right away, but the ensuing suspense is much more akin to the Nordic tradition of Ingmar Bergman or Carl Theodor Dreyer, though fans of De Palma, and Hitchcock by proxy, will still find reason to pump their fists throughout this deeply moving thriller.

In the titular role is Eili Harboe, and she makes a real star-turn as we watch her mental and physical states unravel in a sometimes overwhelming flood of visual and thematic abstractions (coiling snakes and startling murders of crows punctuate the film with a seeable intensity) and it is a great degree of fright and fun that we see Trier (and his usual writing collaborator Eskil Vogt) loosen up, go off the rails, and freak out with flourish.

Deeply sympathetic, shockingly tender, and expressly romantic, Thelma is so much more than the supernatural thriller it initially appears to be. A coming-out tale, a coming-of-age narrative, an artful estimation of womanhood, an erratic fright flick and a reckoning, Thelma is one of the decade’s most darkly gleaming jewels.

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.