Review by Sean Boelman
Claustrophobic thrillers can sometimes be among the most effective and suspenseful of films thanks to the way in which they dial into some of our most common fears. However, they often struggle with minimalism, and that is the case with Seth A. Smith’s experimental sci-fi flick Tin Can.
The movie follows a parasitologist investigating a deadly plague who is kidnapped and wakes up in a life-suspension chamber, forcing her to figure out how she got there and how to get out. It’s an intriguingly simple concept, at its best when it isn’t trying to be something greater than it is, but Smith couldn’t settle for a basic survival thriller.
Despite what the title would imply, the film is not confined to a single location. The portion of the movie in which the protagonist is actually stuck in the eponymous prison is thrilling and intense. But when the mystery starts to unravel, it becomes obvious that the greater context of what’s going on just isn’t that interesting, and it causes it to drop off after the first hour.
It’s especially frustrating when films have one specific moment that can be pointed to as where it loses its steam, and that is the case here. Smith opts to push the plot of the movie forward and take the film in a different direction rather than doubling down on what works, and it’s a risk that did not pay off.
The character development in a survival thriller is always thin, as the answer to why the viewer should care is already obvious. A few flashbacks add additional context as to the situation in which the protagonist finds herself, but there needed to be much more in terms of an emotional connection to the story.
As is the case with a lot of films like this, the success of the movie largely hinges on the lead performance and Anna Hopkins does a great job in that regard. It’s a turn that is wonderfully vulnerable, especially in the first half of the film in which she is largely acting by herself in a confined space.
It is on a technical level that the movie is most effective. The production design is obviously very sparse, but the detail in it is still noteworthy. The cinematography, especially the use of color in the film, is very strong. And the sound design is perhaps the best part of the movie, creating a highly immersive environment.
Tin Can is very strong on a technical level, but it struggles from a sense of overambition that drags it down in the second half. Had the whole movie been as consistent as the first hour, it would have been an instant classic.
Tin Can screened at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 5-25.