6 Mind-Bending Millennial Sci-Fi/Horror Films
Ever struggle to find a fresh movie to watch? Wish there were a fish finder to hook that 40-pound striped bass out of a sea of minnows?
Read on! Here are 6 trippy low-budget indie films which imbue horror/sci-fi/thriller stories with a healthy dollop of comets, quantum bubbles, disconcerting dinner parties, death-cults, and ghosts who refuse to leave home.
1. Resolution (2012)
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 100%
IMDB Logline: A man imprisons his estranged junkie friend in an isolated cabin in the boonies to force him through a week of sobriety, but the events of that week are being mysteriously manipulated.
A 100% Tomatometer does not lie! This is the first entree of 3 fantastic films by the mind-bending team of Justin Benson (writer/director) and Aaron Moorhead (cinematographer). It is also the prequel to another film on this list (The Endless, a death-cult reunion written, directed and starring both Benson and Moorhead). The other film they made – Spring – is also must-watch entertainment (imagine falling in love with a creature that is inevitable, eventually going to kill you). Like most all Benson/Moorhead films, this one is a slow-burner that builds to a bonfire. Don’t drink a bottle of wine when you watch it; as with many films on this list, you’ll need to pay attention! And you just may have reservations the next time you want to do an intervention for your messed up buddy squirreled away in a cabin in the woods.
Best quote about the film: “As a meditation on horror films, and even the film itself, Resolution might be in danger of coming across as pretentious, if it weren’t so damned entertaining throughout.” (Scott Wold, Paste Magazine)
2. The Invitation (2015)
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 88%
IMDB Logline: While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests.
Every time I watch a trailer with ominous strings and a creepy doorbell sound in the middle, I know I’ll be hooked. This bad-idea dinner party gone deadly is proof positive you should always follow your gut – or, as is the case with the main characters in this film – if your car hits a coyote en route, turn around and go the hell home! Directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Jennifer’s Body, Aeon Flux) and with a wonderful cast led by Logan Marshall-Green as “Will” (Devil, Prometheus), the story cleverly traipses between social discomfort, paranoia, embarrassment and – in a riveting Act 3 – adrenalin-laced self-preservation.
The end shot overlooking the canyons is especially brilliant. If you want a scene-by-scene breakdown (or even to download a pdf of the script), click here.
Best quote: “The Invitation is an exceptionally unnerving thriller, a sharp study in the horrors of platonic indulgence and the over-extension of courtesy.” (Britt Hayes, ScreenCrush)
Runner Up: “If you were at a creepy dinner party, and the hosts decided to show a video of their vacation in which they spent time with a crazy cult leader in Mexico, would you stick around for the main course?” (Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald)
3. Coherence (2013)
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 88%
IMDB Logline: Strange things begin to happen when a group of friends gathers for a dinner party on an evening when a comet is passing overhead.
Talk about an inspiration for indie filmmakers – Director James Ward Byrkit (best known for films such as Rango, Baby Driver, and The Forest) shot this sci-fi cosmic mind-fuck over five days in his home, shutting in 8 actors with a “script” that was mostly improvised. And it worked! Another film that starts off slow, Coherence catapults in the second half into a mash-up of quantum physics, mystery, thriller and, ultimately, relationship discontent. Whereas The Invitation (2015) received more acclaim, Coherence ushered in the millennial dinner party thriller two years sooner. If you want more backstory how the film was made, read this Indiewire article.
Best quote: “It turns, rather wonderfully, into a small, nasty little fable about feeling regret and wishing to have a different life.” (Tim Brayton, Alternate Ending)
4. The Endless (2017)
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 97%
IMDB Logline: Two brothers return to the cult they fled from years ago to discover that the group’s beliefs may be saner than they once thought.
Talk about ballsy. These guys took their first film, blew out the concept – including the premise from the first film as one of the supporting stories/characters – and then made themselves the stars! The concept is intriguing – two brothers get a videotape luring them back to the death-cult they fled years ago. Why go back? Because their current life sucks and the cult has free food and some mighty good homebrew. The really trippy thing? The title of the film tells you what the secret is about the cult (hint: it’s not death). This is another film you’ll want to watch twice to capture all the details.
By the way, you can’t go wrong watching any of their three films (Resolution, Spring, The Endless) – all of which have insanely high Tomatometer ratings.
Best quote: “It’s a story about what it means to be comforted, and ultimately confined, by the routines that make up your life.” (Ben Kuchera, Polygon)
5. A Ghost Story (2017)
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 91%
IMDB Logline: In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.
The pace of this film is slow – so slow that one 4 ½ minute scene is a depressed widow eating a chocolate cream pie (apparently the first pie she ever tried). Still, this film has an amazing soundtrack and star power in the form of Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, who teamed with Director David Lowery in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (Lowery also directed the lighter fantasy/comedy/drama-adventure Pete’s Dragon). Like Coherence, A Ghost Story was also made on a shoestring – about $100K – and was filmed at the director’s home in Texas – in fact, a rental he allegedly had emotional issues about leaving. During principal photography and post, the project was kept under wraps (or a ghost sheet) until the director was sure he had something worth showing. Turns out he did!
If you want to hear from the director’s mouth about the film and the pie scene, watch here.
BTW – The film shows in 4×3, not standard 16×9; so if you see below don’t spend 15 minutes trying to stretch the image as I did. The “home movie” frame-up was the Director’s original artistic intent.
Best quote: “A meditation on loss but also on legacy – on our enduring need to endure.” (Bob Mondello, NPR)
6. The Dark Tapes
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 86%
IMDB Logline: A genre-defying mixture of horror, sci-fi, myth, mystery, and thrills told as four interlocking tales in one intelligent anthology. Ghosts, spirits, creatures, demons and more from the paranormal world collide with rational curiosity.
No pun intended, but for a creepy little-found footage anthology, this was a nice “find” on Amazon Prime. All anthologies are pretty much divisive (except for Trick R Treat); however, this film has its fans – like this review by Film Inquiry that called The Dark Tapes “the best found footage film in years”. Made for a paltry $65K, this sci-fi millennial horror beats to its own drum and – with a bevy of festival awards – righteously does so without apology. The script’s wraparound story provides one of the best explanations for shadow people and dark entities – i.e., why they see us but we can’t see them. But my favorite of the anthology was the first short titled The Hunters & The Hunted which tackles a conventional paranormal haunting of a new home with an unconventional twist. I didn’t see the surprise ending coming and, so early in the anthology, it kept me on edge for what was to follow. To Catch a Demon (the last of the 4 shorts) was also strong, whereas Cam Girls and Amanda’s Revenge somewhat faltered. All in all, the entire collection holds together (thanks to the intriguing and aforementioned wrapper) and the practical effects and acting by the shoestring budget masterfully managed by writer/director Michael McQuown. This is an example of genre-bending indie horror at its twisted best.
Best Quote: “The Dark Tapes ends up doing more right than it does wrong … you’ll find some really cool creatures and a few truly frightening and original moments that will send more than just a chill down the old spine.” (Steve “Uncle Creepy” Barton, Dread Central)
Finally, a mind-bending short worth checking out …
Check out WAITING, a short based on an original script I wrote and co-written by myself and director Lisa Demaine. Not unlike The Endless, it has a quantum/sci-fi angle embedded in a thriller.
Length: 18 minutes, 47 seconds
Logline: A business traveler wakes up at a body repair shop with a foggy memory and blood on his head. Stuck in the waiting room, his conscious and sub-conscious minds collide, flooding him with bad memories and a dark secret that won’t die.
Notable Cast: Richard Schiff, Izabella Miko, Earl Brown
About the Author: This is Bob Heske’s 11th article for Indie Film Hustle. You can read his other articles here. Bob is an award-winning indie filmmaker, screenwriter, and graphic novelist. But he still needs his day job. Bob connected with Alex Ferrari, who did post supervision and color correction, on the multi-award-winning festival drama, Blessid (available on most digital platforms). Bob is currently in post on a documentary called Afraid of Nothing, a mash-up of quantum mechanics, consciousness and the supernatural.
BONUS: Filmmaking Resources
- Indie Film Hustle TV – (The Netflix for Screenwriters & Filmmakers)
- Directing Actors Film Workshop
- USC Film School’s ONLY Online Course: Directing the Actor
- Film Lighting MasterClass
- Recording Sound for Indie Film
- The Art of Micro-Budget Filmmaking
- Cinematography MasterClass
- Film Festival Hacks: Submit Like a Pro
- Self-Distributing Your Film Online
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