Honorable Mention: Sunshine (dir. Danny Boyle, 2007)
Zhaoyun: (Recommended soundtrack for this micro-microreview: Further, by VNV Nation.) What if the sun stopped shining? If there was a time before the sun existed, it stands to reason there’ll be a time after it flares out and dies...but what if that time was, not in five billion years or whatever, but in five? That’s the question this imperfect but haunting film asks. We see a world leached of its vitality, washed out, pale in the dying sunlight, and we watch as a group of eggheads tries to do some vaguely scientific CPR on the sun (it’s not as lame as it sounds, I assure you). Plus, the Cheshire Cat-like eyes of Cillian Murphy are an automatic +5 on the hauntingness scale!
Mike: Drawing inspiration from South Africa's experience under Apartheid, Neill Blomkamp dazzles his audience as a modern-day Johannesburg has segregated an influx of an alien race in a shanty-town labeled District 9. The transformation of Wikus, a human charged with evicting the "Prawns" of District 9, and the overt portrayal of racism and paranoia pulls the wizard's curtain back on our own society's shortcomings. Sharlto Copley delivers a stunning performance and the mockumentary style provides this story with a sense of realism that is often missed in the sci-fi genre. Sprinkle in plenty of gore and a pinch of emotional trauma (Wikus’ transformation into a “Prawn”) and you are left with a sci-fi movie that will haunt you for quite some time.
5. Event Horizon (dir. Paul W. S. Anderson, 1997)
Molly: I almost left this movie off my list for a narrower definition of “science fiction” -- the wormhole/inter-dimensional travel to Hell leans just a little too far into horror fantasy. But really, that’s the charm of this movie: it feels like a good sci-fi film until it slaps you in the face with “INFINITE TERROR.” I’d consider it the quintessential “space horror” film. It’s haunting because it will burn certain scary images into your mind and give you that clench-your-buttcheeks feeling for the rest of the night. Psychological torment, mutilation and vivisection, fake-out happy ending... plus seeing Sam Neill all scary will upset all the fuzzy-wuzzies you feel for him as the beloved Dr. Grant (like when
you realized the clown in It was Tim Curry).
4. Solyaris (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)
The G: Sure it’s slow, overlong and sports the special effects wizardry of Tom Baker-era Dr. Who, but Solyaris may well be the most haunting science fiction film ever made. Why? Because it’s a film about a planet that gets into your head and makes that haunt you into reality, that’s why. And what does poor Chris Kelvin get haunted by? Oh, just the ghost of his beloved wife, who committed suicide some time past. The cramped quarters of the space station add a claustrophobic element to a story that’s already utterly unnerving, getting under your skin until you’re desperate for Kelvin to just crawl out and space himself out of an airlock. It’s exquisitely shot too, alternating color and black and white for effect, and sends a message to those commercial sellouts Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa that, when it comes to mesmerizing-yet-impenetrable meditations on the dark recesses of mind and soul, Tarkovsky is the fucking man.
3. Alien (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979)
Brad: When you’re discussing the most haunting science fiction films ever made, Alien absolutely must be a part of the conversation. Ridley Scott’s oft-copied classic hits many of our natural human fears with pinpoint accuracy. The most obvious of these is the fear of being killed by a monster that wouldn’t have much trouble dispatching the velociraptors from Jurassic Park, nevermind us soft, slow-moving skin-sacks. However, if that was all it had going for it, Alien might have faded quietly into the plethora of monster movies that none of us really remember a week after viewing. Luckily for all of us, that was only the beginning. I don’t know about you, but the thought of having a parasite living inside of me gives me the heeby-jeebies. Oh, and don't forget that Isolation is enough to drive many people insane, and the crew of the Nostromo is in deep space, which is about as isolated as one can get. Finally there is the android Ash, played to perfection by Ian Holm. From B-movie cult classics like Maximum Overdrive to quality films like Terminator and 2001 we are simultaneously fascinated and terrified by the specter of our technology turning on us with deadly repercussions. Alien seamlessly combines this multitude of natural, deep-seated human fears into one of the most memorably haunting films of all time.
2. Blade Runner (dir. Ridley Scott, 1982)
Vance: I have to admit that I don't find Blade Runner to be a great movie. I think I've seen all of the versions out there, and while some are definitely better than others they all feel like a collection of great scenes in search of the right wrapper. That said, the best few of these versions improve upon the Philip K. Dick source material, and so many of the scenes stand alone as utterly unforgettable. The greatest of these is Roy Batty's rooftop speech, "All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain." These are the moments that linger, much more so to me than any esoteric debates about whether or not Deckard is a replicant. And man, do they linger.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
The G: A good portion of 2001’s power comes from the fact that it asks a lot of questions, but doesn’t provide a lot of definitive answers. What are the monoliths? Are they sentient or devices? If the latter, who made them and for what purpose? Do they make HAL go crazy so that Dave can sublimate into a giant space fetus? I’ve seen the film more than a dozen times and I still don’t know (though I have some defensible theories). Besides, virtually any scene from this freakadalic masterpiece can lodge in your brain for weeks, like Frank Poole’s death, HAL’s termination or just that big-ass monolith floating in space with Ligeti’s Atmospheres playing ominously in the background. Oh, and did I mention there’s no sound in space? Score one for physics.