The plot is as vast and empty as the vision of the future in this mystical post-apocalyptic fantasy drama.
Orion (Fantasia Review)
One lazy afternoon when I was a kid, I came across Ranald MacDougall’s 1959 film The World, the Flesh and the Devil on UHF; I’ve been a fan of post-apocalyptic films ever since. I can’t speak to whatever deep-rooted psychological reasons fuel this in me, but what I find most interesting about the sub-genre is each filmmaker’s vision of what the future will look like after a global catastrophe, whether that disaster is natural or man-made. The latest glance at what a filmmaker thinks of the world’s bleak future can be found in Orion, from writer/director Asiel Norton.
David Arquette plays the Hunter, a man wandering alone in a desolate world known as The Rust. The shell of a large parking garage where he scavenges suggests civilization once thrived not that long ago (about a century, according to opening title cards), but the rat he is forced to trap and eat is the mascot for just how far that civilization has fallen. Meanwhile, Magus (Goran Kostic), a magician, helps deliver the baby of the Virgin (Lily Cole), but Magus disposes of the child in accordance with a ritual as documented in a large tome he possesses. The Virgin is then held captive by Magus. As the Hunter wanders, he comes across the home where Magus and the Virgin live, and the magician invites the Hunter in for a meal. While there, the Virgin desperately but discreetly asks the Hunter to help her escape. One thing Magus, the Virgin, and the Hunter all know is that there is something greater at work in the universe—a destiny for the Hunter they all will help fulfill.
Orion might take place in a post-apocalyptic world, but it isn’t a post-apocalyptic film; other than some hollowed-out buildings and some props, there is no real connection to life before the catastrophe. The story (such as it is) could have just as easily taken place in ancient Europe, and one gets the sense that the century-removed, post-apocalyptic backstory/setting was a creative decision driven by the sets available for filming. An approach of using what is available might embody the spirit of independent filmmaking, and the dilapidated buildings and other “civilization used to be here” settings all look terrific, but none of that matters if the storytelling doesn’t work.
Orion‘s storytelling doesn’t work; in fact, it’s threadbare. The construct is interesting enough: a man must fulfill his destiny, and part of that destiny is rescuing the damsel in distress whom he falls in love with. There’s a bad guy that is both the obstacle to saving the girl and yet part of the greater destiny, and there is a smaller character (the Fool, played by Maren Lord), who helps the hero. It has the potential for depth and density, but instead it is a shell of a story, like an outline sketched as a placeholder for something greater.
Norton is far more interested in reveling in his own directorial style than he is in creating anything substantive. He establishes his story, dolls it up with some mysticism, some title cards with Olde Tyme font, some nudity, and some Tarot-like storytelling device, then clings to an endless series of shaky, hand-held close-ups (close-ups that ultimately undermine any action taking place during the Hunter/Magnus battles) and long scenes of the Hunter pondering his destiny. These ponderous scenes, which include clips of what the Hunter is thinking (foretelling?) are replete with pseudo-mysterious dialogue (“He’s coming. He’s me.”) delivered via voiceover and incessantly repeated at various volume levels. It feels like watching a medieval perfume commercial.
Throw in some Christian symbolism to give the tale a little spiritual heft, and Norton wants you to think he’s made something deep. He hasn’t. He’s committed a live-action RPG to film and acted as its middling game master.
The cast is fine although mostly unchallenged by the material, with the exception of Kostic as Magus. The character, while not deep, has some scenery-chewing moments and Kostic delivers. When Norton allows the camera to occasionally open up, Lyn Moncrief’s cinematography is quite nice. It also bears repeating that that the sets are very good, along with the costumes.
Another facet of post-apocalyptic films that draws me to them is the opportunity to ponder if I could survive in that creator’s imagined realm. I like to think that in most cases I would, but if ever I were faced with the choice of dying during the apocalypse or living in Asiel Norton’s future, well, tell my family I love them.
Orion made its World Premiere on August 1st at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival. To find out more about the festival, visit www.fantasiafestival.com