Five science fiction movies to stream now
By Elisabeth Vincentelli
If you’re interested in alien invasions, vivid dreamscapes or adorable cats, this collection of streaming picks may be just right for you.
At one point in Anthony Scott Burns’ deeply unsettling movie, a character brings up influential science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. It’s a daunting reference point to set for yourself, especially because the film explores one of Dick’s favorite subjects — the porous borders of reality. Amazingly, “Come True” lives up to the challenge.
Teenager Sarah (played by elfin, magnetic Julia Sarah Stone) tries to live a normal life despite being so alienated, for unknown reasons, from her mother that she has chosen to be homeless. Enrolling in a sleep study may help with two of Sarah’s problems at once: finding a bed on a semiregular basis and figuring out why she is plagued by nightmares — the movie’s elaborately designed dreamscapes are absolutely terrifying.
“Come True” borrows from sci-fi, psychological drama and horror to send viewers on a journey to the outer limits of the unconscious. It bravely refuses pat explanations, or even to provide a general road map — it is as slippery and disorienting as a dream. This, of course, is only a mild reflection of the hell Sarah is going through, but it does create a constant state of dread in the viewer; at its best, “Come True” brings to mind Jonathan Glazer’s cult darling “Under the Skin.” And the final shot will make your head spin.
(Stream it on Hulu.)
Let’s get one thing out of the way: For the most part, Lisa Joy’s debut feature as director was not greeted with positive reviews.
But watching “Reminiscence” — which Joy, co-creator of the series “Westworld,” also wrote — with an open mind suggests a misunderstanding about the film’s nature.
Set in a futuristic Miami half-flooded by rising waters, the movie has a hard-boiled exterior: Hugh Jackman’s Nick Bannister is a brooding investigator whose specialty is time rather than space. He and his associate, Watts Sanders (Thandiwe Newton), help people retrieve and relive their memories, no matter how submerged they might be.
But if you go in expecting a futuristic noir or a sci-fi parable about climate change, you are bound to be disappointed: “Reminiscence” is a romance, albeit one set in a soggy world. It is entirely preoccupied with Nick’s obsession with Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a sultry singer plying her trade in joints from Miami to New Orleans. He can’t stop thinking about her, and his all-consuming obsession is to find her again. If anything, the film sits at the unexpected center of a Venn diagram combining Alfred Hitchcock’s surrealist exploration of the psychoanalytical unconscious, “Spellbound,” and Nicholas Sparks’ tales of fervent love. The straightforward thriller scenes aren’t all that effective, but the ones dealing with the crushing weight of love are.
(Stream it on HBO Max.)
Some housekeeping: There are quite a few movies named “Coma,” so make sure you look for the recent Russian one. And if you prefer subtitles to the ubiquitous English dub, head over to the version streaming for free (with ad breaks) on IMDb TV.
Not that the dialogue is all that important in Nikita Argunov’s film, which often looks like an M.C. Escher drawing come to CGI life.
One day, a ragtag group of cool-looking strangers saves Viktor (Rinal Mukhametov) from menacing creatures that appear to be made of black dust. His new friends take Viktor to safety in a universe in which the laws of physics don’t apply — chunks of entire buildings float upside down, bridges levitate in the sky and link airborne islands. This is a world made up of what goes on in the minds of people who are in a coma, a fantastical reality that feels unfinished because it is based on those collective brains’ partial awareness. (Clearly, inner space stands in for outer space in this week’s column.)
Although this sounds “Tenet”-like complicated, the movie has a certain playfulness that defies the highfalutin concept. The visuals can lack a certain depth at times, but the 2D feel has a particular old-school fun appeal, as if the actors were agitating in front of painted backdrops. Plus, a lot of scenes boil down to the group trying to escape those black beasties, which are known as Reapers. Sometimes all you need is a good chase scene, even if it’s topsy-turvy.
(Rent it or buy it on most major platforms.)
This scrappy British indie is streaming on Vudu for free with ad breaks, which gives you a few seconds to grab a drink and puzzle an existential mystery: How can a filmmaker set such a precisely composed mood and create such accomplished set pieces and, at the same time, tolerate such a lackadaisical, to put it mildly, approach to acting?
Police officer Zoe Norris (Katherine Drake, stubbornly sticking with a blank expression and a monotone) is not particularly happy to be dispatched to deal with a suicide, but the situation she finds at an isolated house is even tougher than expected. Naturally, communications go down, as they are wont to do when visitors from somewhere that is not Earth come to pay a visit.
Yes, we have seen variations on this premise dozens of times, but writer-director Neil Rowe handles his well, especially considering what must have been a microscopic budget. Rowe has a keen eye and comes up with impressively austere visual compositions. The first half of the film also moves with the economical grace of a good 1970s B flick, which is select praise.
As we glimpse mysterious, enormously tall humanoids amble about the rural landscape, skittering their army of metallic, spiderlike robots, we realize that it’s humans causing the most damage: The title’s outbreak refers to an epidemic of suicides.
Rowe gets out a little bit over his skis when he digs deeper into the plot, but he still manages to summon some shockers, including a scene in a barn that is ridiculous and affecting all at once. I’m not entirely sure I understood the ending, but it certainly made my head reel.
(Stream it on Vudu.)
‘The Door Into Summer’
Sci-fi can be pretty grim these days: Writing this column often means going down dark paths littered with extinction events, pandemics, technology running amok, and what happens when the sun threatens to destroy humanity. So it’s a relief when levity comes knocking, especially if an adorable cat is involved.
The feline’s name is Pete, and he is an essential component of Takahiro Miki’s faithful adaptation of a Robert Heinlein novel of the same name from 1956. This Japanese movie, which is streaming on Netflix, actually has two key characters named Pete: the cat and an android, PETE-13, who looks after robotics whiz Soichiro (Kento Yamazaki, of the sci-fi Netflix series “Alice in Borderland”) when he wakes up in 2025 after spending 30 years in cryosleep. Soichiro endeavors to figure out what happened to the people he knew during the intervening decades — the ones he loved and the ones who betrayed him.
All that, and there is time travel, too.
Admittedly, the film takes its sweet time to set the plot in motion in the early scenes, which take place in 1995 — there is a thin line between a gentle pace and a slow one. But it all pays off once the passive Soichiro begins taking a more active part in his own destiny.
Miki has a light touch when it comes to what is, essentially, a decades-jumping romance, and artfully disheveled Yamazaki makes for an appealing lead well worth rooting for.
(Stream it on Netflix.)