Before we talk about minimalist films, we need to know what minimalism is, and this is fairly straight-forward. Minimalism is a style that can affect many forms of art, and even ways of life, and essentially refers to things that are very simple and free from superfluousness.
Applied to films, this is used to describe those films that are very simple – containing very few characters, locations, and even uncomplicated narratives. This is tough to do, but there are a surprisingly large number of minimalist movies.
Even more surprisingly, Sci-Fi movies can achieve minimalism just the same as other genres of film. Below you’ll find six of the best minimalist SciFi films of all time.
Under the Skin
Under the Skin, based on the novel of the same name by Michel Faber, was released in 2013. Starring Scarlett Johansson as a strange woman who drives around Glasgow in a van seducing men. The seduction is not for what you would first assume after hearing this description – instead her purpose is to devour these unsuspecting victims within a strange liquid. The plot is fairly straight forward – it may raise a few questions, but overall it’s simple and doesn’t necessarily require much thought, however it manages to be very disturbing despite this. The film also only has one actual actor, the rest of the relatively small cast being non-actors, and many of the scenes were unscripted interactions and conversations filmed with hidden cameras. This film is almost the epitome of minimalist science fiction, and despite a poor box office performance it won over a dozen awards and was named one of 2014’s best films.
Ex Machina is an independent science fiction psychological thriller released in 2015 to critical acclaim. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander as Caleb Smith, Nathan Bateman, and Ava respectively, the film follows the Caleb, a programmer, as he is invited by the CEO of the company he works for to his home in order to perform a Turing Test on an Artificial Intelligence. Things are not how they seem, however, and we follow Caleb through a disturbing series of events – made even more powerful by the soundtrack. The director of the film, Alex Garland, opted for as small a budget as possible and wanted to forgo the use of action sequences. Also, traditional special effects were eschewed in favour of completing them in post-production. Owing to the small number of actors, low budget, and the few locations used, Ex Machina definitely fits as a minimalist SciFi film, and one of the best too – garnering about twenty awards.
10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane is, like Ex Machina, a science fiction psychological thriller and was released in 2016 as a spiritual successor to the film Cloverfield. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg and starring John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher, Jr., 10 Cloverfield Lane follows a woman who has awoken from a car accident and finds herself trapped in an underground bunker – unable to leave because of the fallout from a war that occurred during her unconsciousness. Much of the film is spent in the underground location with Mary Winstead’s character trying to suss out the motivations behind the other two characters and stay alive, finally discovering a way out. The
film is a really deep and personal exploration of how people might survive after an invasion, an aspect not really touched upon in many other films. The film’s minimalist nature only adds to the story it tells and the overall feeling you as an audience member experience.
Coherence, a science fiction thriller directed by James Ward Byrkit, was released in 2013. Starring Emily Baldoni and seven other actors, Coherence follows the story of a woman named Emily after a strange event causes multiple realities to intersect and allowing she and her friends to swap into other realities occupied by their parallel selves. Finding the “perfect” reality, free from conflict, after travelling between multiple other realities, Emily tries to force her double out in order to take her place. Things, of course, don’t go as planned. The film occurs mostly in a single house – James Byrkit’s in fact – and includes little, if any, special effects. This ensured the budget was relatively
low – only $50 000. There was no script, each actor only knowing their own characters’ backstories and motivations, and despite the interweaving of characters, has a very simple plot. The film won various awards and as one would expect, is held in favour by critics.
The Man From Earth
The Man from Earth is a science fiction drama film released in 2007 and stars David Lee Smith as Professor John Oldman, a man preparing to leave for a new home when his friends and colleagues show up to say goodbye. He reveals to them that he has lived for over 14 millennia and doesn’t age. This is only the first of his revelations – many more following as his friends press him for proof. The film is definitely the usual SciFi fare, and those seeking familiar tropes will be disappointed. Instead, the film is an exploration of how various disciplines focusing on historical research can in fact be wrong, the nature of humanity, and religion. The film is almost entirely dialogue, and is shot in only a a few locations with a budget of $200 000. The last work of Jerome Bixby, the film received publicity through torrenting sites such as BitTorrent as well as various film festivals where it won over ten awards, including best film and best screenplay.
Moon is a science fiction drama directed by Duncan Jones and released in 2009. Starring Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, an astronaut overseeing the extraction of helium-3 from the moon, and Kevin Spacey as GERTY, Sam’s robot companion, the story follows Sam as he discovers that he is a clone and he tries to find his way to earth in order to expose the company he works for. Filmed within 33 days on a set in London, Moon only had a budget of $5 million and a cast of less than ten actors. Praised by both critics and the scientific community, the film seems to tackle the reality of ourselves and our emotions.