BINGE-R #60: Orphan Black + Weekend Movies
ORPHAN BLACK S1
Streaming Services: Netflix + Stan
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming (plus S2 + S3 + S4)
A tense, twisted science-fiction thriller, Orphan Black reaches its sweet spot for the first time at the start of the first season’s third episode, when three women caught up in an increasingly paranoid mystery first find themselves together in the same room. There’s Sarah, a scrappy survivor already posing as her deceased doppelganger, officious housewife Alison, and dreadlocked university student Cosima. The twist is that they’re all played by the same actor: Tatiana Maslany. Watching Maslany, whether through motion control cameras or body doubles, intuitively work with herself elevates this knotty genre piece into something special.
It’s Sarah, the audience’s guide, you meet first. Back in her hometown of Toronto to claim the daughter she previously left with her own foster mother, Sarah randomly sees her double, Beth, commit suicide. Shocked but also sensing an angle, she assumes Beth’s identity, which begins a run of near misses and haphazard discoveries as Beth’s problems start to become Sarah’s. By the end of the first episode, when Sarah as Beth meets a panicked German iteration of herself, redhead Katja, the driving narrative of identical clones and their unwelcome fate is established.
Maslany doesn’t just don wigs and distinctive markings, she shows how these disparate clones genuinely react to each other; their presence together has a galvanising impact, with the knowledge of what they’re a part of – which is both unique and life-threatening – changing their behaviour. You soon forget that Maslany is making scenes character by character, and there’s a terrific black humour in the first season as the distinct personalities are revealed. “This is my neighbourhood,” Alison warns Sarah, coming across as a soccer mum version of a criminal protecting their turf.
The plot steadily envelopes not just Sarah and the other clones, but the people around them, whether they’re secretly involved or not. With its twists on reproduction and identity, there’s a body horror undertow that hums beneath the shadowy organisations and religious fanatics: someone made these women, who’ve been separated and sent out into the world in a nature versus nurture experiment, and like any created item they have a possessive owner. Aside from the anonymous Canadian backdrops, Orphan Black is full of defining traits, starting with Maslany’s inspired multi-tasking. Netflix and Stan each have four seasons available, with the fifth and final collection on the way. It’s not too late to dig into a series that’s never received the kudos locally it deserves.
THREE WEEKEND MOVIES
If you want a beautiful dark twisted fantasy…
Okja (Netflix, 2017, 120 minutes): The South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho makes masterfully thrilling movies about capitalism’s crimes – they can sweep you up, but also scar your soul. The follow-up to his 2013 dystopian inequality metaphor Snowpiercer (which is back on Netflix and essential viewing), Okja is the story of a strain of super pigs created by a corporation and seeded to farmers worldwide to make the creature’s eventual mass consumption palatable. In South Korea, the adolescent girl, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) who has grown up with her self-aware best friend, Okja, tries to stop his exploitation, embarking on a journey from nature’s realm to the industrial killing floor. The film has heart-fluttering flourishes – beginning with the digital super pig’s endearingly jowly flanks and droopy ears and taking in antic adventures – and cruel realities, modified by a cast of human eccentrics that includes Tilda Swinton as rival corporate twins and Jake Gyllenhaal as a corrupted wildlife presenter. Bong’s wonderful adventure plays to adults, suggesting that in the end we’ll all at risk of being eaten up.
If you’re after a heartrending romance…
Bright Star (Stan, 2009, 120 minutes): Jane Campion’s last feature film, before she immersed herself in consecutive seasons of the cable drama Top of the Lake, Bright Star dispenses with the conventions of the 19th century romance to capture the words and quiet wonder that marked the chaste love between then struggling poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Frances Brawne (Abbie Cornish), his neighbour on then semi-rural Hampstead Heath. Pursuant to the era, households cannot always accommodate the individual or their desires, and the strictures that separate the pair are tragic for their dismally ordinary intractability. The immersive production detail is immaculate, especially the creations of the late, great Australian costumes designer Janet Patterson.
If you prefer a deadpan independent comedy…
Amateur (SBS on Demand, 1994, 105 minutes): American independent filmmaking gained a sharp French edge in this oblique thriller from Hal Hartley, who added the renowned actress Isabelle Huppert to his downtown ensemble. She plays Isabelle, a virginal former nun now making her living as a pornographer – bound up in leather and an inscrutable disdain, she gets caught up with a bloodied amnesiac (Martin Donovan) and a former porn star (Elina Lowensohn) in an arthouse hit that turns international intrigue into a study of desire and personal choice. Hartley’s cool compositions frame an odd world where self-discovery emerges in unexpected ways.
>> Want BINGE-R sent to your inbox? Click here for the twice weekly e-mail.