Tin Can


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Tin Can
"It's tightly structured but ambitious in scope and often reminiscent of Soviet cinema in both style and thematic arc." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

Every year, epidemiologists identify somewhere between 10 and 30 new diseases with the potential to become dangerous pandemics. Horrific though Covid-19 has been, in the grand scale of things, it's just a little one. The Black Death killed a third of the population of Europe. Ebola - though it is thankfully more difficult to transmit and we have a very good vaccine against it - kills 90% of those it infects. The plague in Seth A Smith's latest science fiction thriller is even worse - and so is the approach to isolation which some people are resorting to in an attempt to escape it.

Our protagonist (Anna Hopkins) knows this disease well. She's a parasitologist who has been working on a cure. She's close. Just a bit more work and she's sure she can find a solution. But time is running out. Vast numbers of people have already died. The man she loves has the trademark white bumps forming on his skin. Then one day when she steps out of the back door of the lab for a breath of air, somebody hits her over the back of the head. She wakes up suspended by a network of plastic tubes inside what is, to all intents and purposes, a tin can.

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How long has she been there? She knows that these vessels have been used by some people as a place to wait out the plague. There's a suggestion that suspended animation is involved. She needs to get back to the lab, to finish her work - but what if years, or decades, or centuries have already passed? Knowing nothing about what the outside world might look like, she sets about trying to escape.

Viewers familiar with Smith's 2017 work The Crescent, which also played games with its heroine's perception of time, will be on the alert for twists here, and won't be disappointed. Whilst it centres on a human survival story which anyone can connect with, this is a film with shifting temporal, spatial and moral parameters. It's tightly structured but ambitious in scope and often reminiscent of Soviet cinema in both style and thematic arc.

As in his previous work, Smith goes big on the visuals, both inside and outside the can; and here, again, there is work that evokes Andrey Tarkovsky and Marek Piestrak. It's splendidly realised and atmospheric, which is important because in later, slower scenes, Smith relies on it to maintain a sense of awe when the actors are compromised in their ability to hold our attention. These scenes weigh the film down and will put off some viewers, but they're balanced by deftly handled flashbacks which let us get to know our protagonist in a more familiar context, watching her fall in love, observing her dedication to her work and coming to understand what her choices have cost.

Though it's not as successful as The Crescent, Tin Can is wonderfully bold, a perfect choice for this year's Fantasia line-up, and if Smith intends to carry on giving us films like this then he should be on the radar of everyone with an interest in genre cinema. The term science fiction is too easily associated with empty-headed blockbusters, but this is the real thing.

Reviewed on: 08 Aug 2021
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As the world faces a deadly plague, a front line parasitologist is imprisoned in a life-suspension chamber. To escape she must destroy the last of her kind.

Director: Seth A Smith

Writer: Seth A Smith, Darcy Spidle

Starring: Anna Hopkins, Simon Mutabazi, Michael Ironside, Amy Trefry, Tim Dunn

Year: 2020

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: Canada


Fantasia 2021

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