While many people are familiar with massive science fiction franchises like Blade Runner or The Matrix, fewer are acquainted with the genre’s low-budget gems. Indie sci-fi classics — like the two in this article — prove you don’t need lots of money to tell interesting new stories in the genre.
Shane Carruth’s 2004 film, Primer, tells a story of two engineers who discover time travel as an unintended consequence of an electromagnetic experiment. The film’s uniqueness comes from it’s implementation of time travel, which is done through a convoluted — but intriguing — cloning process.
It’s a ridiculously complicated concept, and the film’s emphasis on authentic engineering jargon and experimental editing can make it disorienting. Primer is a puzzle box that only the most dedicated viewers will be able to make sense of.
However, it works as a commendable example of indie drama. As the characters develop differing ethical understandings of the technology, they grow to resent each other, creating an endless loop of murder and revenge in which neither of them is safe.
Another excellent indie sci-fi film to watch is Duncan Jones’s 2009 film, Moon. Produced with a relatively small $5-million budget, Moon is carried by photorealistic miniature work, an excellent score and a double performance by Sam Rockwell. The narrative follows Sam Bell, the only man living on the moon in 2035. However, when he discovers an unconscious astronaut — who looks exactly like him — he learns that he’s not as alone as he previously believed.
With interiors that surpass those in movies with 10 times the budget, Moon tells an emotionally ambitious story, while managing to look and sound better than most major studio films. The decision to use miniatures instead of CGI also pays off by giving the movie a unique analog feel.
Though most household names in the science-fiction genre are created in behemoth studios, Primer and Moon are great introductions to the exciting world of minimalist and independent science-fiction film.