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Tin Can
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by Jay Seaver

"Pandemic nightmares cranked up high."
4 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2021 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Seth A. Smith's "Tin Can" is an unabashedly weird bit of science fiction, escalating its eccentricity twice, more or less to the point of abstraction. The ironic result is that a flashback to a thoroughly conventional series of events is almost the thing that causes a viewer to have momentary trouble suspending their disbelief. Sure, one might say, I'll buy all that other stuff, but are we really going to have something this big turn on that? That's not a complaint; that's a sign that a movie has rewired what one finds possible but good.

In the near future, there's a new pandemic, this one mostly contained to eastern Canada and involving a fungal infection. Fret (Anna Hopkins) and John (Simon Mutabazi) are both working on the problem for research institute VASE as well as being lovers, and John's recent diagnosis has given Fret a little extra motivation. Her current research in using gold to halt the fungus's advance shows promise, at least until she is unexpectedly knocked on the head and wakes up in a container with barely any room to move around, thoroughly intubated. She manages to pull some of that gear out and pry open a grill just enough to see that there's not much more than other cans to see out there. John is in another one, as are other folks she saw at VASE. Some are talking about a long-term hibernation project, but that doesn't make sense to Fret - her muscles haven't atrophied, for one thing. She's a scientist, and that sounds like pure science fiction.

Which is saying something, considering her circumstances. Smith spends a good chunk of the movie testing just how much of the claustrophobic setting the audience can take, narrowing the already-tight framing, building a shot so that Fret is easy to read but still feels buried behind tubes and such, occasionally switching to a cutaway with the rest of the screen blotted out by some brightly-colored pattern so it doesn't feel too zoomed-out. Anna Hopkins gives an impressive physical performance, contorting and straining against everything around her, escalating from methodical to fierce, playing against disembodied voices, with the changing angles and sound mixing making it hard for the audience to construct a mental map of whatever space contains these units.

Eventually, Smith lets up a bit by adding more flashbacks to the mix, and it's a case where the cross-cutting creates interesting parallels: The opening, pre-canning segment emphasizes Fret's most positive, relatable traits, cheering up an infected kid and handling the co-worker (Sam Vignault) who is apparently nursing a crush well, and it pairs well with her methodically trying to think her way out of her predicament soon after, a contrast to the guy losing it in the next container (Tim Dunn). As she starts to flash back to the start and progress of her relationship with with John, the audience gets a little more focus on her eccentricity and hyperfocus, and as things start to go south in the past, she's losing patience with the folks who don't seem to be trying as hard as she is in the present. There's a dark side to her being revealed in the flashbacks, and as that catches up, her shift to brute force to escape her cell, sensible as it may be, looks unhinged.

And then, well, things get downright peculiar. Smith doesn't bother to explain exactly how things have gotten to the point where they have, but the battered robots that look like something out of a Doctor Who serial that is still scary fifty years later despite its cheap production design certainly tell enough of a story that one can fill in the blanks. Smith almost drops dialog entirely, sometimes subtitling the distorted sounds these humanoids make, sometimes not, leaning more heavily on his increasingly alien-sounding score and a contrast between metallic and fungal designs that are both twisted in their own way. It goes on long enough to become a new status quo, and that will wear some viewers out and push them away, but it's a last act for Fret that's worth mulling over as almost everything there is the logical endpoint of something she did and earnest pragmatism can serve as a front for vicious revenge.

It makes for a nesting doll of weird sci-fi horror, a niche item to be sure, one ready to strike an even more raw nerve by coming out with thoughts of pandemics and social isolation fresh or current (though it was likely filmed before that became so ubiquitous). It's a specific combination of creepy and artsy that will have some throwing up their hands and hitting stop because it's asking for too much indulgence, but which will stick in the heads of at least some who make it to the end.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=34520&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/08/21 18:27:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Seth A. Smith

Written by
  Seth A. Smith
  Darcy Spidle

  Anna Hopkins
  Simon Mutabazi
  Michael Ironside
  Amy Trefry
  Tim Dunn

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