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Film Review: Tin Can’s claustrophobic sci-fi horror

A worldwide pandemic is threatening humanity, not with death but something else, and a woman who may have the key to defeating the disease wakes up after an assault to find herself locked in tiny life-support pod, with no idea how she got there. That’s the premise for Tin Can, an intriguing if frustrating science fiction film with artistic aspirations extending well beyond its modest budget.

After touring the festival circuit for two years and winning a few awards, the 2020 Canadian production is is briefly in U.S. theatres before heading to video-on-demand. Fans of indie film and/or Canadian sci-fi horror may want to check it out (the influences of David Cronenberg and Vincenzo Natali are evident). Most viewers will prefer waiting for home video.

Although the obvious inspiration would seem to be the lockdown and isolation resulting from 2020 pandemic, Tin Can feels more as if someone watched Natali’s Cube (1997), thought it was too broad in scope, and decided to narrow it down while adding little Cronenberg body-horror. After Fret (Anna Hopkins) wakes in her tiny prison, there is a long stretch of screen time depicting her efforts to disconnect from life support and summon help to escape this “Room with No Door” (as the film’s chapter title describes it). In effect, the film is a formal experiment in trying to maintain visual interest in a motion picture with little motion and not much to show.

Writer-director Seth A. Smith and cowriter Darcy Spidle employ clever strategies to make this work, with the narrative and the visual style playing complimentary roles. The script’s tactic is to swiftly fill in key elements of the back story so that audiences know the broad strokes of what is happening but not the whys and wherefores, which are gradually revealed over the course of the running time. Meanwhile, after Fret wakes up, the camera initially focuses on her predicament in close ups so tight that we cannot fully see the interior of her containment pod. Only gradually do the camera angles grow wider, first revealing more of the pod and later showing glimpses of the outside, through a small grate she manages to open.

Tin Can Film review
Clever shots like this give wide angle views of Fret trapped inside her pod without revealing what is outside.

In short, the widening point of view of the camera visually corresponds to our widening view of situation as the film slowly reveals crucial details to audience. Through bits of dialogue with unseen characters trapped in pods near Fret, we learn more about what the plague does to its victims (if you have seen the trailer, you can probably guess that mutation is involved). And through flashbacks we get glimpses indicating the human failings that may have doomed humanity. (In one harrowing scene, a wife infects her husband with the plague by inserting a hypodermic needle into his penis.)

Unfortunately, as clever as this approach is, it can only work for so long, and eventually Tin Can starts to wear down as we wait for the film to confirm what we have guessed from early clues. For example, the film begins with Fret listening to a phone message from her husband John (Simon Mutabazi) hoping to convince her to wakeup with him, which sounds cryptic until we learn that he works for a company trying to create a feasible way to preserve “rich” people until a cure can be found; John wants to ride out the pandemic in a pod, but Fret thinks it’s wrong to leave the problem for other people to solve. So when Fret wakes up in her pod, and one of the first voices she hears through its walls comes from John, audiences are rightfully suspicious that the attack on her was no coincidence…

Eventually, the film opens up to show what is happening outside the pods, without fully explaining the changes that have taken place while Fret was asleep. Exactly how much time has elapsed is unclear, but as Fret rightly points out, the lack of muscle atrophy indicates the time would be closer to weeks than years. In spite of this Tin Can presents a futuristic, mechanized vision of the pandemic world that puts the film squarely in science fiction territory.

What exactly we are to make of this is unclear. The procedures outside the pods are so robotic and rigidly enacted that they seem almost automated, suggesting a bureaucratic system running on auto-pilot while the original its original purpose is possibly forgotten.

Ultimately, however, we are probably not supposed to care. As in Natali’s Splice (2009), scientific problems are intertwined with personal problems. In Tin Can, there is a wedding ring which resembles a metal disc used in an experiment to divide a colony of slime mold, which we are told always manages to reunite. Tin Can‘s sly joke is that the slime is a metaphor for human relationships, and reuniting with a spouse may be the only “happy” ending possible in the post-pandemic world.

Hollywood Gothique's rating of Tin Can

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not recommended but not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

Tin Can film reviewTin Can is admirably ambitious, but it fails to realize its full potential. Nevertheless, it provides ample proof that director Seth A. Smith and cowriter Darcy Spidle are talent worth watching (their next project is an adaptation of Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows).

Makeup effects and production design do an amazing job of creating a believable world, so that what we finally see outside Fret’s pod is not a disappointment. Anna Hopkins is great in a role that literally requires her to fill the screen for long stretches of time. The remaining cast is solid, and it’s great to see (mostly hear) Michael Ironside (of Cronenberg’s Scanners) in a supporting role.

Tin Can (2020). Produced by Nancy Urich. Directed by Seth A. Smith. Written by Seth A. Smith and Darcy Spidle. Cast: Anna Hopkins, Simon Mutabazi, Michael Ironside, Amy Trefry, Tim Dunn. Unrated. 104 mins. U.S. distribution by Epic Pictures; theatrical Release Date: August 5, 2022.

Tin Can is currently playing a one-week engagement at the Laemmle Glendale. It arrives on VOD on August 9 and Blu-ray on September 6.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.