Five of Our Favorite Underrated Indie Films - Underestimated Week


Written by Timothy Dillon

I tend to cringe when someone tells me they do not go to the movies. Perhaps that’s a bit judgmental. In truth, many non movie-goers are deterred from seeking out a dark cinema because the films being offered do not have any real substance. They may have sex appeal or action, but nothing too thought-provoking. What fun is there in seeing the same recycled plots and character arcs? Why do I cringe? I cringe because if you want to find a good movie, you have to be prepared to go looking for it.

Movies offer a unique escapism but only if the world crafted by the filmmakers is something worth escaping to. What the Hollywood machine has mastered is the production of films that have enough money in them to attract a big crowd. By this I mean, they can make it look like something worth your time and money. Hollywood can find a way to market a film to virtually any demographic, but that does not guarantee it will be something worth seeing.

In the past decade there have been numerous examples of high quality films that have gone under the radar and into the maze of films littering iMDB. Not all of them could get the notoriety of, for example, the Academy Award Nominated film, Winter’s Bone. These are five films that will change the way you see cinema, and more importantly, will change the way you look for movies next Friday night.

Primer (2004)

This gem of science fiction realism is about as true to independent cinema as is possible. Funded by approximately $7,000, Primer tells the story of a small group of engineers who accidentally discover time travel in their garage. Intrigued? Well that’s good, because the characters are intriguing. What starts out as a simple curiosity into their invention quickly descends into an exploration into the implications of tinkering with physics and causation. The film addresses the question, ‘What would you do, if you could revise your own life?’ If you are expecting the flash and glam of Back to the Future, you will be disappointed. This is pulp sci-fi, driven not by the gimmicks and graphics that Hollywood is hooked on, but instead by great performances and in-depth character study. After watching, ask yourself one question: Could you make a better film for $7,000? If you can, go grab a camera, I’d like to see it.

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

Once upon a time Shakespeare ruled the stage, and on that stage there was either a comedy or a drama. In a comedy you get hitched and in a drama you die. This movie aims to break that mold by starting off with a suicide, and entering an afterlife, where things are pretty much the same, only a little worse. Based on a short story and graphic novel, this film studies a group of characters who, through one way or another, have killed themselves and are forced to live in a depressing world together for the rest of their ‘afterlives’. With a talented cast ranging from Patrick Fugit, best known for his leading role in Almost Famous, to musician Tom Waits, the cast paints a beautiful picture of finding happiness, love, and even life in the afterlife. I laughed, I cried, I watched it ten times the first month after I bought the DVD.

Enter The Void (2009)

This one comes with a warning. If you are a person easily affected by intense films and/or disturbing images, this one might not be for you. With opening credits that kick you in the stomach and sting your eyes, this films grabs a hold of you and refuses to let go. A death grip so to speak. Taking place in the neon-lit clubs and streets of Tokyo, after a small time drug dealer is killed and his soul is jettisoned from his body to wander our world without any remaining physical connection. Unlike the minimalism of Primer and the familiarity of afterlife in Wristcutters, Enter The Void offers a truly sensual experience. How it was shot with such ease and fluidity is beyond my understanding, but I can guarantee, you won’t see anything like it elsewhere.

Take Shelter (2011)

Have you ever questioned your sanity? Take Shelter follows Curtis, portrayed brilliantly by Michael Shannon, a simple family man as he faces an impending doom. What is worse, he cannot distinguish whether or not that doom is coming from within, or from divine influence. He begins to gather supplies, becomes obsessed with renovating his backyard storm shelter, and is plagued with visions of gorgeous skies that hold the waters of doom for him and his family. Would a person be able to distinguish madness from prophecy? Would a family? Would a town? If you walk through Time Square, you can probably find someone ranting about the ‘end of days,’ but I doubt it sends a chill up your spine like this film will. Take Shelter is essentially the calm before the storm. We get to watch as a man grapples with reality and face his fears leading up to an important realization that is the true impending storm.

Compliance (2012)

Just released this past August, Compliance follows an “isolated incident” at a fast food restaurant when a mysterious call from someone claiming to be law enforcement enlists the management and staff to turn on one of its own. Dreama Walker amazingly portrays the unsuspecting server soon to be victim. This role would be challenging for any actor, and she delivers a performance nothing short amazing albeit morbidly honest. The film depicts her being strip-searched, interrogated, psychologically tortured, sexually abused, and raped. This sounds like the same minds that brought you the ridiculous horror flicks like Saw and Hostel. The only difference is that Compliance is based on over 70 similar incidents throughout the United States. We tend to think we are good, free-thinking people, but Compliance challenges just that assumption. One of the more interesting explorations of human morality and will power since the Stanford Prison Experiment, this film has pushed the envelope on what real horror means in the modern age.