Zone 39 (1996)

Despite the small size of their film industry, Australia has turned out a surprising number of interesting SF films.  While this obviously has a lot to do with Mad Max, the harsh terrain of much of the Island continent does lend itself nicely to post-Apocalyptic futures.  Which is more or less what we have here.

But we are not talking about motorized barbarians or wild automotive stunts here.  This is a darker, more meditative film.

In a future divided into two rival spheres, a woman is murdered because she learns a deadly secret about the joint project the two big powers are running.  Her husband, Leo Magaw, a soldier who has been forced to spend far too much time away from her, gets sent off to a remote monitoring outpost where he spends his time spying on the soldier from the other side who is stationed just across the border.  And, as an escape from the endless boredom of his station, , he dreams of his wife, with the help of a device he smuggled in with him.

But something strange is going on around his post, and  the computer in the outpost is keeping things from him…

The emphasis on the troubled but deeply loving relationship between Leo and his wife gives this one an emotional depth that’s rare in SF cinema — although it also makes his decision to lose himself in dreams seem more than a little creepy.  

This is a remarkably good small-scale film, which makes excellent use of the beautiful yet desolate locations, and takes quite a few unexpected twists — and the ending even manages to tie in some of the seemingly unimportant details (such as his orders to shoot anyone crossing the border as they can no longer afford to imprison them).  This is not a film for those expecting large scale action or routine war movie heroics.  Instead, this is a far quieter and more thoughtful film, one more interested in its mysteries and underlying story than it is in car chases (although we do get a bit of that as well).

Instead, it is aimed at those of us interested in intelligent SF, who aren’t afraid of something a bit darker than the average Mad Max ripoff.

It’s definitely worth a look for those willing to risk that trek across the border….

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