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Five sci-fi movies to stream now

by Stewart Cole

Stream it on Paramount+; rent or buy on most major platforms.

Dan Burke and Robert Olsen’s film opens with a mysterious red flare falling from the sky, so we immediately suspect who (or what) will set off the plot. And it might not be friendly, because the chances of a backpacking trip going into a sci-fi movie are pretty slim. Indeed, things quickly go awry after Harry (Jake Lacey, from “The White Lotus” Season 1) and his girlfriend, Ruth (Maika Monroe, “It Follows”), take off on an isolated Oregon trail. She’s wracked with anxiety that’s so crippling that she’s been on medication and seeing a therapist, but playfully tries not to ruin a trip that Jake has carefully planned. And then, of course, everything goes to pot, with some nice red herrings and plot twists bolstering the script. “FELLOW” (the title cleverly belies two different meanings) is a tight, effective sci-fi/horror hybrid, with the scares generated less by tactical shocks than by a growing dread. This suspense is created in the viewer in part by good filmmaking — the film is fast paced, well acted and atmospheric (only the CGI looks a little cheap). And it comes in part from the “Significant Other” that deals with shared concerns: Do we ever fully know who we’re next to?

Stream it on Hulu.

After “Possessor” (2020), Brandon Cronenberg continues his investigation into the nature of identity – a big theme in this week’s column – with a savage satirical element: It turns out that rich people can and will exploit their ability to buy their way out of anything. Alexander Skarsgård stars as James, a blocked writer who enjoys the high life thanks to his rich wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman). One fateful night, while the couple are vacationing in the fictional country of Li Tolqa, James accidentally kills a local. He escapes the death penalty by agreeing to create a duplicate of himself and then watch that duplicate be executed. This jolts him out of his iniquity, and he falls in with a group of rich, hedonistic vacationers (including Mia Goth and Jalil Lespert as a particularly kinky couple) who mine the legal loophole to indulge in depraved kicks. “Infinity Pool” depicts a decadent amorality that doesn’t even feel that far-fetched — the titular impunity reigns supreme in real life, and the film’s cloning technology may be just around the corner at this point. This nightmare may be hiding in the sunny tones of swank travel brochures, but that makes it all the more chilling.

As Mounia Akl’s gorgeous, low-key debut begins, a title informs us that we’re in “Lebanon, in the near future.” Beirut has become almost completely dysfunctional, consumed by an out-of-control garbage crisis. This does not affect the Bakri family, headed by the headstrong Walid (Saleh Bakri) who lives in self-sufficient isolation in the countryside. Then one day workers appear and inform the Bakris that a dump is coming next door. Walid’s family isn’t as upset about it as he is. His wife, Suraya (Nadine Lampaki, director of such films as “Capernaum” and “Caramel”), was a singer of some fame and misses parts of her old life. the new crisis could be a way out for her. Their two young daughters are fascinated by the change in their routine. As blue garbage bags begin to pop up across the hitherto pristine landscape, it’s hard not to be heartbroken by this vision of a planet slowly descending into self-destruction. At its heart, however, “Costa Brava, Lebanon” is a finely crafted portrait of a family desperately trying to hold it together in the face of a world gone mad.

Rent or buy on most major platforms.

Peter (Matthew Jeffers) is in dire need of money, so when his neighbor Winona (Sarah Hay) offers him $1,700 in cash to drive him to Canada, he’s desperate enough to agree, albeit very grumpily. Besides the money, she also has a reason to go with him, while Winona has a completely different mission: She informs Peter that she was abducted by aliens from Andromeda when she was 15, and after a long absence she has just been ordered to meet at that time and place in Canada. Road movies are a favorite subgenre in the low-budget indie realm, but Juan Felipe Zuleta’s feature easily stands out from the pack. The director has a sure hand with composition and image editing (which sounds like a basic requirement of filmmaking but is actually far from a given) and his film rests on the wonderful performances of Jeffers and Hay. Like many road trip movies, “Unidentified Objects” is structured around a series of encounters, some quirky and some heartbreaking, until the fateful moment when Peter and Winona reach their destination. The reward really works.

Artificial intelligence has long been an obsession of speculative fiction, but there is a big change now: reality is coming. In this Canadian film directed by April Mullen, seventh generation “simulators” have become physically indistinguishable from humans. (In a nice touch, they’re numbered like some fancy Apple product.) The big question is whether they’ve also become spiritually and emotionally closer to us. Look, it’s our old friend “ambiguous identity” again!

The main characters include a couple (Jordana Brewster and Robbie Amell) in which the husband was replaced by an exact android copy after an accident. an agent from Artificial Intelligence Compliance Enforcement (Sam Worthington) who tracks down “sims” that have been illegally restarted. and a technician (Simu Liu) with a mysterious agenda.

Every time he tries to start action, “Simulant” shuts down, and the score by Blitz//Berlin doesn’t help – no one will confuse it with “Blade Runner”. The film is on much firmer ground as a relationship drama, along the lines of the British series “Humans,” where the artificial creations are called “synths.” The overarching theme is the growing divide between human and anthropomorphic: Can sims have souls? Can they love? In this hall of mirrors, you’re never sure who’s the original and who’s the mirage, and what, if anything, separates the two.

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