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Little-known (And Worthwhile) Sci-Fi Thrillers From The 21st Century

Science fiction thrillers worth giving a chance.

Przemysław Mudlaff

17 April 2024

Little-known (and worth your while) sci-fi thrillers from the 21st century

Science fiction is one of the most flexible genres in film. Filmmakers are well aware of this, which is why they often combine science fiction with other genres such as horror, comedy, or romance, providing audiences with unforgettable and unique experiences. One of the most compatible genres with science fiction is thriller, and this compilation is dedicated to that combination. However, instead of reminding you of the most well-known titles resulting from this genre fusion, I have decided to focus on science fiction thrillers from the 21st century that seem lesser-known or forgotten to me. While the productions mentioned here may not have made a lasting mark on the history of cinema, I am convinced that each of them is at least intriguing and worth checking out.

Time Lapse, 2014

Migawka z przyszłości

In Time Lapse, one of the three main characters in the film, upon discovering a neighbor’s house with a photographic camera permanently attached to the floor, the size of three photocopiers, with the lens aimed towards the window of their shared living room, says, ‘You shouldn’t mess with time.’ This camera spits out a picture every day at 8:00 PM depicting exactly what will happen 24 hours later in the aforementioned living room of the three characters. This astonishing discovery becomes both an opportunity and a curse for Callie, Finn, and Jasper. Similarly, it is for the creators of this film. The concept and premise of Time Lapse are intriguing. Thanks to perhaps a somewhat absurd but incredibly simple and effective idea, the debutant director (Bradley King) truly captivates the audience. The viewer begins to ponder what they would use such an unusual device for. However, it’s not worth letting your imagination run wild for too long, as the decisions made by King’s characters will start to irritate you too much. They are so foolish that it’s truly hard to believe them during the screening. For this reason, I watched Time Lapse twice. During the second viewing, I simply focused on the story presented and on what the debutant director has to convey in his full-length feature. I then concluded that his film is like a Shallow Grave in the famous Twilight Zone, truly great, suspenseful, fairly clear, yet also requiring a bit of analysis.

Coherence (2013)


Coherence will definitely give you a bigger headache. And I’m not talking about the occasionally shaky camera, which can push the viewer’s tolerance to the limit, but about the level of complexity of the story. While watching James Ward Byrkit’s production, it’s essential to focus solely on the screening, as staying up to date with the film’s characters is crucial for understanding what’s happening on the screen at any given moment. I don’t want to spoil anything for you before watching Coherence, because discovering what happened during the gathering of friends is truly fascinating. I’ll just add that if you’re bothered by handheld camera techniques, you might be put off by Byrkit’s work. However, I encourage you to endure those few, maybe a dozen minutes (it stops bothering after a while), because beneath that chaotic camera movement lies an intriguing, gripping story with a thrill.

Prospect, 2018


Do you know why Pedro Pascal portrayed Joel so perfectly in HBO’s hit series, The Last of Us? Because he played a similar role back in 2018, in a low-budget science fiction thriller titled Prospect. While the answer above is of course somewhat tongue-in-cheek, in Prospect, Pascal’s character, along with teenage Cee (Sophie Thatcher), traverses the wild terrain of one of the moons at the edge of the galaxy in search of treasure and a means of transportation back home. But let’s leave The Last of Us aside and focus on Zeek Earl and Christopher Caldwell’s film. Prospect is an incredibly atmospheric, tension-filled science fiction western with elements of a coming-of-age story. It’s remarkable how the creators work around budget limitations, creating impressive and imaginative “space” landscapes that also feel incredibly real. The pacing of the film is also noteworthy. It’s almost perfect, one might say, reminiscent of a western. If you add to that the incredibly well-played relationship between Pascal and Thatcher’s characters, you get a true gem that you’ll want to immerse yourself in multiple times.

Midnight Special, 2016

Midnight Special Jaeden Lieberher Michael Shannon

I love Jeff Nichols‘ cinema. I appreciate the life themes he tackles, mainly related to parenthood, which he subtly embeds in his original approach to film genres. Nichols is also one of the few filmmakers who primarily enjoy storytelling, often foregoing flashy visual effects in favor of narrative development. And I don’t mean to imply that his films are over-talkative. Nichols has a knack for propelling the story forward through long shots and implications, which further stir emotions in the audience. A perfect example of this is Midnight Special. Through this film, the director creates a strange yet effective genre hybrid that pays homage to the cinema of Steven Spielberg or John Carpenter. Midnight Special captivates with its excellent atmosphere, convinces with wonderful acting, and draws you in with its increasingly dense mystery minute by minute. I apologize for the enigmatic description, but the less you know about it, the more it stirs up emotions.

Control (2004)


Tim Hunter is primarily known as a television director, although he also has successful films to his name such as the crime drama River’s Edge (1986) and the thriller with elements of science fiction, Control. On one hand, the low recognition of Control may stem from the fact that it was a direct-to-video production, released directly to the home video market. On the other hand, the presence of names like Willem Dafoe and Ray Liotta in the cast should effectively attract fans of intense cinema. Regardless of why Tim Hunter’s project passed through DVD players without much notice, it’s worth forming your own opinion about it. Control begins with the execution scene of Lee Ray (Ray Liotta). Although the lethal substance has been injected into the convict’s bloodstream, it turns out not to be fatal. Dr. Copeland decides to give Lee another chance. However, the condition for staying alive is to undergo an experiment designed to pharmacologically control Ray’s murderous personality. Control is a story of redemption, second chances, and the moral and ethical aspects of interfering with another person’s nature. It’s well-acted, fairly well-written, suspenseful, and at times, even touching.

Cypher, 2002

cypher jeremy northam

Vincenzo Natali is a name well-known to fans of science fiction cinema, mainly due to his debut, the now-cult film Cube (1997), and the controversial Splice (2009). But Natali is worth knowing for at least one more reason, and that reason is Cypher. It is the kind of modest film that, thanks to the intelligence, wit, and meticulousness of its creators, puts Hollywood productions with huge budgets to shame. Natali’s creation from 2002 guarantees a perfectly crafted, precise, and twisted story utilizing the motif of a Kafkaesque situation. Cypher also features phenomenal performances by Jeremy Northam (an actor who was seriously considered for the role of James Bond at the time) and Lucy Liu. It’s worth adding that the described, lesser-known film by the American-Canadian director is seductively stylized. It dazzles with its use of a cool color palette and its scenery. Exciting, intelligent, and ironic cinema!

Timecrimes, 2007

Timecrimes is the full-length feature debut of Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo. The creator from the Iberian Peninsula has made a name for himself in world cinema as an author of genre mash-ups, through which he explores human behavior in difficult, often incomprehensible circumstances. Such a theme also appears in the aforementioned Timecrimes. Here, Hector, the main character of Vigalondo’s 2007 film, unexpectedly finds himself time traveling. A disruption in the spacetime continuum is caused by a tank filled with a white liquid, into which Hector hides at the urging of a scientist while fleeing from a bandaged, scissor-wielding psycho. One of the greatest strengths of Timecrimes is its ability to construct a credible (sic!) and tension-filled story about time travel without relying on huge special effects budgets. Vigalondo’s debut is indeed a intimate, if not modest, production. Essentially, three locations and five (or so it seems) characters provide the audience with emotions that some blockbusters fail to deliver even with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars. However, to paint a complete picture, it’s worth noting that the Spanish director’s narrative also has its weaker points. These include uneven acting and occasionally illogical character behaviors (although this can be attributed to the shock that may occur after time travel).

Przemysław Mudlaff

Przemysław Mudlaff

He appreciates the truth and sincerity of the intentions of its creators in cinema. He loves to be emotionally kicked and abused by the film, but also happy and amused. A hunter of film curiosities, references and connections. A fan of the works of PTA, von Trier, Kieślowski, Lantimos and Villeneuve. What he likes the most is talking about the cinema over a beer, and the beer has to be cold and thick, you know what.

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