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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 08.17.15] post apocalyptic scifi fantasy

The 2008/2009 festival circuit is particularly ingrained in my mind because of two American movies which, though they came out a year apart and sit on complete opposite ends of the spectrum, have been marked in my mid as the high point in American Cinema of the last 10 years. Lance Hammer's Ballast, a beautiful minimalist realist drama while Asiel Norton's Redland (review) is an avant-garde, dreamlike experience. Both movies deal with survival but they approach the subject in very disparate ways.

Considering how challenging Redland was to watch, it was a welcome surprise to discover that the director was working on a follow-up. It's been over two years since co-star David Arquette set the internet ablaze with his tweet from the set of Orion and though it seemed like the movie had been lost forever, the post-apocalyptic drama recently made it's world debut at Fantasia. The final product is exactly what one might expect from Norton: it's cryptic and stunningly gorgeous.

The story unfolds a century after the collapse of civilization. The last remnants of humanity survive in squalor, wandering the wasteland known as the Rust. Arquette plays the Hunter, a man who wonders into an area controlled by the Magician, a man who is more than human. The Magician is a bit of a Shaman and he seems to hold the keys to the second coming: knowledge and a beautiful young woman (Lily Cole). In this desolate world there's a myth that a hunter will appear and that after some trials, be reborn as Orion, the saviour of humanity. What's not clear is if this myth is widespread of if it's simply something the Magician knows. Either way, when Hunter wanders into the Magician's territory, he sets off a series of events that change not only his life but the course of humanity; whatever is left of it.

Part sci-fi and part fantasy, Orion strikes me as a rare piece of work which feels both new and a throwback to the oddball sci-fi of the 60s and 70s. It doesn't seem to have any direct parallels to any other movies and that's precisely why it feels like something old. The mythology of Orion is so unique, it feels like something which has been germinating for decades and it's all on screen, told with minimal dialogue and a handful of title cards.

Detroit's decaying structures are a perfect setting for this story, suggesting there was once civilization. The survival of these characters is so far removed from that history that Orion could well have taken place on another planet. And yet, Norton is consistently guiding the characters towards a return to some sort of familiar civilization. Against all odds, these characters are struggling to keep humanity alive, to unite the survivors and to rebuild.

As with his previous movie, Orion sets up the story, introduces the characters and then slowly devolves into meandering scenes that don't necessarily move the story. Norton revels in the characters and the setting and often, we simply follow the characters as they meander the landscape, a wandering which is captured in a manner that falls somewhere between dream and nightmare. Soft corners, washed out colors, breathtaking cinematography… it all adds to the mysticism which Norton infuses into the story.

Admittedly the story is threadbare, but Orion builds a fascinating world and mythology that is bolstered by the movie's themes and the simple experience of watching it. Orion is one of these rare movies that washes over you and transports the audience to another place, one that is both familiar and not. Perhaps most surprising is the eternal optimism of a movie that often seems so bleak. In the end, Orion leaves you with the feeling that despite everything that goes wrong in the world, humanity isn't completely fatalistic.

Recommended Release: Redland

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