The San Juan Daily Star
Five science fiction movies to stream now
By Elisabeth Vincentelli
Dante (Edoardo Leo) works in insurance. Or rather, he overworks in insurance. His life is spent rushing around and juggling responsibilities, and so he is always running late, much to the frustration of his artist girlfriend, Alice (Barbara Ronchi). Until the morning following a birthday, when Dante wakes up to the realization that an entire year has gone by while he was asleep — mind you, everybody else experienced it normally. Another day goes by, and another year that has elapsed for him. In what feels like just a few (subjective) hours, Alice is pregnant, then the couple have a baby, who just as quickly turns into a toddler, and into a little girl. One day Dante’s a grunt at his company, the next he is the boss, and so on. To his horror, he is living his life in fast-forward.
An Italian remake of the 2021 Australian film “Long Story Short” (which stars Rafe Spall and is on Netflix), Alessandro Aronadio’s comedy skips cumbersome logistics — the script does not bear close scrutiny — to essentially focus on Dante’s powerlessness as his life passes him by. The message to slow down and smell the roses is fairly obvious, but that does not make “Still Time” any less fun.
Stream it on Netflix.
A great advantage of the time-loop conceit is that it can power many kinds of movies: rom-com, heist, thriller, life lesson. Here, director Eiichiro Hasumi delivers a J-horror version with a young adult twist. In his tale, a murderous entity tracks six high school students and slaughters them one by one. But the teenagers slowly gain an advantage since they keep waking up to the same morning, “Groundhog Day”-style, and relive the violent events. The teens quickly realize their life (and death) will be stuck on repeat until they complete a so-called body search — not anything the Transportation Security Administration might do but a morbid treasure hunt in which they must locate hacked-out body parts that have been stashed around their school. With the resets, they learn the parts’ locations, as well as where and when the Red Person might strike.
Unfortunately, one morning there is a hitch in the loop: The six are down to five. Hasumi keeps the scares coming while inserting a surprisingly effective subplot about teenagers being wolves to each other: A key character, Asuka (Kanna Hashimoto), is shunned by her classmates, who consider her a dorky loser. Naturally, the repeat ordeal creates unexpected bonds. Make sure you stick around for the scene tucked after the end credits.
Stream it on Netflix.
The reviews were not precisely ecstatic when this animated adventure was released in November, but there’s a reason Don Hall and Qui Nguyen’s movie has been doing very well on Disney+: It’s a fun caper with enough high jinks to make you overlook the sometimes heavy-handed message. A quarter century after he was left behind by his explorer father (Dennis Quaid), Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) has become a successful farmer growing the electricity-producing Pando plant that powers everything in the wondrous land of Avalonia. Not only that, but he has a dream family with his wife, Meridian (Gabrielle Union), and son, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White). All is rosy, or rather eco-green, until Searcher notices that his plant is slowly dying. To troubleshoot, he sets out to locate the plant’s root and finds himself in an underground world. Pando-monium ensues. The movie often is overwhelmingly breathless, but the way it fully embraces old-fashioned family adventure has a winning retro-cool vibe.
Stream it on Disney+.
‘Something in the Dirt’
Since “Resolution,” in 2013, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have explored the outer edges of human consciousness in a joint filmography steeped in horror and science fiction. Their most accessible movie so far is “Synchronic” (2020), in which the title drug allows Anthony Mackie to time-travel. Benson and Moorhead followed it up with this gonzo talkathon in which two neighbors become enmeshed in a world of conspiracy theories and supernatural shenanigans, against a backdrop of ominous black smoke and low-flying aircrafts. It’s all very Los Angeles weird.
The story revolves around the insta-friendship between Levi (Benson) and his new neighbor, John (Moorhead). Levi has just moved into an apartment that had been empty for 10 years. When odd phenomena start to happen — the lease didn’t mention levitating, glowing crystals — the two men decide to film them for a documentary they hope will lead to Netflix riches. Golden ratio? Mysterious symbols? Possible alien presence? Direct references to “The X-Files”? It’s all there, and more.
The movie is less about a traditional mystery-explaining narrative than Levi and John’s buddy chemistry. They are exemplars of seekers whose knowledge is fed by sketchy message boards and half-digested information pulled from podcasts and TED Talks, so much so that “Something in the Dirt” feels like a meta-commentary on people who really, really want to believe.
Stream it on Hulu.
For her debut feature, writer-director Mali Elfman chose a tried-and-true structure: two strangers thrown together on a cross-country road trip. Here, however, the end of the line truly is the end of the line, because Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli) are going from New York to San Francisco to commit assisted suicide as part of an experiment in post-consciousness survival. If this sounds like they are volunteering to become ghosts, that is pretty much what is going on — Rose and Teddy are heading to the Life Beyond Institute, where the guru-like Dr. Stevensen (Karen Gillan) promises “the next era of the human existence.”
Life after death is essentially accepted as a new reality but “Next Exit” does not really explore what that entails. Rather, the movie is interested in what people do when they think they have nothing to lose — or to gain, for that matter. It’s a common trope in psychological science fiction concerned with human behavior in the shadow of extinction, and while this movie does not add anything groundbreaking to the mini-genre, it is a compelling watch thanks to Parker and Kohli’s prickly rapport. You see where Rose and Teddy’s relationship is going long before the characters do, but as with the best road trips, the journey matters more than the destination.
Stream it on Hulu.