“Like a corpse in a coffin”
After settling her family in Vermont, I doubt actress Logan Howe ever expected to convert a one-car garage into a spaceship headed for Mars like she did with her directorial debut Tin Can. A dark science fiction puzzler written by Steve Maas, the micro-budgeted film needed the inspired art direction of reappropriated electronic junk to come to life. Modeled after Robert Zubrin’s hypothetical design from The Case for Mars, the practicality of this ship’s centrifugal force physics are glossed over in lieu of watching its claustrophobia-inducing nature slowly consume its inhabitants. Rather than excite by expensive special effects, this high concept setting is used to enhance the human suspense thriller underneath.
A three-man expedition to literally go where no man has gone before, Peter Bennett (Maas), pilot Mark Riley (Eric Clifford), and engineer Alan Kenneth (Jayson Argento) find themselves in isolation for over four hundred days. Trapped inside this high-tech vessel, the days pass to reveal its reality of a prison without escape. The toll it takes being away from Earth so long would cripple anyone, having those circumstances exacerbated by a series of technical malfunctions only makes it impossible. What begins as a good-natured clash of personalities over chess games and the legitimacy of each man’s work soon devolves into an aggressive psychological battle against each other and within themselves.
Appearing to have been picked for the long journey due to their lack of tethers back home, Bennett just happens to meet the woman of his dreams while in the midst of training. Marty (Howe) makes the mission more than an abstract concept of humanity for him—he’ll be a hero for someone, possibly even helping make his world a better place to raise a family. Always dreaming to see the stars, he moves towards that goal while also knowing a future awaits after the rigors of space travel end. We watch his memories of the days before lift-off—his time with Marty a happy place to forever return when it appears all hope is lost.
It doesn’t take long before those thoughts are all he has to hold tight. After their first encounter with a solar flare destroys all computers but the main console, a need for answers instantly trumps the feeling of safety that being in the hands of ground control once gave. Bennett toes the company line by defending the corner cutting needed to adhere with their checklist of priorities and maximum flight weight. Communication eventually goes down, the waste disposal malfunctions, and a fire threatens to derail the mission and leave them floating in space without the means of return.
As Cercopes goes, so does the audience. Caught in a voyeuristic position as the filmmakers cut the movie together with angled security camera footage from multiple walls of the ship, we watch dissention and temper overpower calmness once Bennett becomes trapped inside his sleeping quarters. No longer able to fan fires, he can only ask his crew to continue trying to free him. Time passes and the ability to coherently process thoughts and memories dissolves with the depletion of their rations. While Riley and Kenneth’s fuses grow shorter and shorter on the outside, Bennett begins to hallucinate and talk to Marty inside his visions of the past.
A nice device to reveal the fracture between Bennett and Marty previously alluded to with disjointed images; this is also where Tin Can begins to crumble under its own lofty expectations. Where it had stalwartly adhered to existing on Cercopes or inside the minds of its men, we’re now introduced to a mysterious agent (Michael Manion) central to the mission and his interactions with Marty. A necessary character for the mind-bending, non-linear conspiracy theorem that will soon cause us to question what we’ve seen, I wonder if his actions could have come through the astronauts instead.
It’s impossible to talk in depth about this enigmatic role without spoiling the film, but I do really enjoy what he stands for and the direction he takes the story. A key to solving the film’s mysteries, his riddles sadly run in convoluted circles that often muddle rather than clarify. A contradiction giving all the answers and yet none at the same time, it’s hard not to imagine him reworked as an omnipresent entity forever in the background. We understand the big picture but never find out why, so perhaps a more abstract and open-ended finish would allow the film to live up to the lofty goals set forth. Maas goes too far in his explanation, giving so much away that you feel cheated not knowing the rest rather than excited to decipher infinite possibilities.
With or without the mystery, though, special mention should be made for Argento and Clifford. Embodying the best-written roles with aplomb, their evolution is entertaining and authentic as it culminates into a hellish downward spiral. Leaving both without an authority figure for the second half of the film is a stroke of genius that allows them to confront their own personal demons while Bennett’s torment leads us to discover Marty and the agent’s fate. Cercopes then becomes a manifestation of the mischievous cheats its Greek forest creature namesakes were known to be. Meant to realize mankind’s quest for new worlds, the vessel breaks its occupants open instead. As 2001: A Space Odyssey exemplified with its own rebellious spacecraft, our instruments of knowledge will forever be turned into weapons of destruction. Tin Can continues with this principle; I only wish it didn’t give our destroyer a face.
courtesy of tincanmovie.com