Brit Marling is a good fit for Netflix, the streaming channel that never saw an inter-dimensional portal it didn’t like (Stranger Things, The Good Place). Together with her regular cinematic collaborator Zal Batmanglij, she created one of TV’s most idiosyncratic shows in The OA, a weird and often wonderful sci-fi drama about an ordinary angel. Except there’s not much ordinary about Marling’s character Prairie, who we meet when she returns home to a small community, and recovering from blindness. Flashbacks indicate that Prarie’s background is Russian, but the narrative takes in a more recent period where she and a few other unfortunates are revealed as the scientific experiment of Dr Hap Percy (Jason Isaacs). Now released, Prairie uses her skills to teach a diverse group of people what she knows, for the purpose that isn’t clear until the end of the final episode. After that bombshell, series two goes off on a wild tangent into an alternate universe San Francisco where the populace use a Pokemon-style video game to seek out clues, and a giant octopus puts on a sexual show in a nightclub. The OA takes it’s time, and the second episode closer is something of a head-scratcher, but it’s all good stuff; more Sapphire and Steel than Dr Who. Yes, there are frustrating moments, but Marling is such an original creative force as well as a compelling performer that The OA marks her successful transition from cult film-star to mainstream powerhouse.
Time travel is once again the subject of this brainy slice of sci-fi, no less than expected from the partnership of writer and star Brit Marling and writer/director Zal Batmanglij. Journalists are intrigued by news of a woman claiming to be a time traveller, and attempt to infiltrate the cult around Maggie (Marling), who lives in an LA basement, eats only food grown there, and claims to have returned from the future where a civil war has resulted in catastrophe. Fans of The OA, and they are many and devoted, will want to check out all of Marling’s cinematic offerings, which add up to more than just dry runs. Whether Maggie is a real time traveller, or a witch, or a manipulative cult leader is up for grabs here, and there’s an edge to the proceedings that typifies Marling’s kooky but always smart take on the sci-fi genre.
As well as featuring the most dramatic use of an elevator since Damien; Omen II, writer/director Mike Cahill’s science-fiction based drama sports an original idea of some potential. Ian (Michael Pitt) falls for model Sofi (Astrid Berges Frisbey), but their relationship ends in a violent and unexpected death. Lab assistant Karen (Brit Marling provides some solace, but Ian’s fascination with eyes as not only the gateway to the soul but a genetic fingerprint that supports notions of re-incarnation, and leads to a fascinating resolution in which Ian’s ideas of science and religion are repeatedly subverted. I Origins plays like a low-fi Twilight Zone episode with intellectual pretensions, and despite occasional gore, is a decidedly adult sci-fi thriller about belief
The third of actress Brit Marling’s collaborations with director Zal Batmanglij (Another Earth, The Sound of My Voice) abandons the sci-fi theme in favour of a more grounded conspiracy thriller. Ridley Scott is amongst the producers, but The East is content to work in a minor key. Sarah (Marling) is hired by Sharon (Patricia Clarkson) to infiltrate an anarchist commune run by Benji (Alexander Skarsgard), but the activities she’s involved with make her question what side she’s on. The East is a level-headed consideration of what the motivations for ‘terrorist activity’ might be, and even if it sticks to a conventional thriller storyline, there’s plenty of subversive ideas buried amongst the tense, well-acted scenes.
Sub-genres don’t come much smaller than ‘films which deal with an identical mirror image earth hidden on the other side of the sun’. Aside from 1969’s Doppleganger/Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, there’s really just Another Earth, the first of Brit Marling’s collaborations with Zal Batmanglij. It’s as much of a contemplation of what another earth might mean as much as an exploration of the newly discovered planet; for Rhoda (Marling), ridden with guilt about a DUI car accident she caused the split second she became aware of the alternate world’s existence, it’s the potential to confront her own guilt. She finds her way into the affections of John (William Malpother), whose family were killed in the crash, while applying to be one of the first to visit the new planet. Another Earth is an adult drama with science-fiction trimmings, in the Upstream Color mould, and deserves praise for its mature consideration of grief and potential solace.