Toronto After Dark 2013 - Day 5

My fifth day at Toronto After Dark film festival was Sci-Fi Night! I was treated to two features I knew very little about going in and pleasantly surprised by both. There were no Q&As tonight, and I had to skip on the bar fun to catch up on writing, but the two features alone were enough to make it a great night. 

Short: The Vehicle (d: O. Corbin Saleken)

This little time travel short is romantic and well-acted but unfortunately felt incomplete to me. I cannot say much for fear of spoiling the film, but basically a main character's motivations (or lack thereof) took me out of the story. 

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Feature: The Last Days on Mars (d: Ruairi Robinson)

A few years back, I posted about a great sci-fi/horror short called "Blinky" (watch it here). So when festival programmer Adam Lopez introduced The Last Days of Mars last night and mentioned it was Blinky's director Ruairi Robinson who made it, I was suddenly very excited to watch this movie! It is actualy Robinson's first feature and, not surprisingly, it's a pretty good one.

There are just 20 hours left in the Aurora Mars Mission and the crew has found no signs of life on the red planet. That is, until a rogue researcher uncovers a strain of bacterium and unwittingly unleashes a deadly disease that turns the crew into bloodthirsty monsters. The cast includes Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, and Olivia Williams.  

Typically, I would not reveal that much, as I did not even know the menace going into this film, but it's better that you know. This is not Gravity, nor a drama about space madness - it's horror through and through. The common description "Alien meets 28 Days Later" is pretty accurate. Despite not breaking the mold, Last Days of Mars does everything right. It looks amazing, the characters are realistic, the actors are fantastic, and the makeup FX are practical. I cannot ask for more than that!

Still, because it's a bit too familiar, I could not get excited about it. I cannot think of a single tangible complaint, as the film is well-constructed, but it somehow leaves me a tad cold. With all science fiction, I tend to hope for something fresh and surprising, and unfortunately Last Days of Mars is not that. Despite that, I absolutely recommend it, especially if you dig outer space horror, and cannot wait to see Robinson's next project.

Rating: 3.5 out 5

Short: Night Giant (d: Aaron Beckum)

This 8-minute black-and-white short is like a pulp noir tale about a man being followed by a "night giant." It's a weird little tale, but pretty funny, especially Kai Lennox as a giant hunter. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Feature: The Machine (d: Caradog W. James)

I said I was looking for fresh and exciting sci-fi and I found it in The Machine. This UK-produced indie is one of the best science fiction films of recent memory and it was somehow made for less than one million dollars - a fact that still makes my jaw drop. In the not-so-distant future, British intelligence is developing androids as soldiers to fight in their impending war with China. Their key scientist Dr. Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens), a specialist in brain damage and mechanical implants, is secretly using the project to cure his ill daughter. But everthing changes when one of his creations becomes self-aware.

The Machine is being compared to sci-fi classics like Blade Runner and The Terminator, and rightfully so. With a fantastic script, stellar performances, a cool synth score, and some of the most stunning FX I've ever seen (seriously, less than $1M?!), it earns that cinematic company for sure. As the titular machine, Caity Lotz delivers an unforgettable performance that has the cold roboticism of Metropolis' Maria crossed with the sweet vulnerability (and ass-kickability) of The Fifth Element's Leeloo. Lotz steals the show, but Stephens - who looks like the perfect lovechild of Guy Pearce and Damien Lewis - is solid, too.

This film not only looks amazing, but has a lot of socio-political commentary, and philosophical examination of life versus imitation. This is a must-see film, and it is definitely in the top 3 films of TADFF so far. This is the kind of movie I would throw all my money at, but apparently director Caradog James doesn't need it because he's some kind of sorcerer who can turn a tiny budget into a spectacle like this. Seriously, spread the buzz about this movie any chance you get - it needs to be seen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The film has no actual trailer yet, but here is a clip:

As usual, the festivities continued at the Office Pub for Pub After Dark. The highlight was when the DJ put on the Eega theme song, which is the perfect dance song!

My sixth night of Toronto After Dark is Gore Night! The features include Found, about a horror fan whose life begins turning into a horror film, and Evil Feed, which has been called "Looney Tunes on bath salts." Interesting! Click here for my coverage of those!

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