Review: TIN CAN, Industrial Grade Medical Nightmare Fuel
For many, a hospital visit is an exhausting house of horrors and bodily function humiliation, a prison on the road to wellness, where consent is as much implied as it is expected.
Imagine your choices, and your suffering, at being intubated and left in helpless limbo in the current state of limited resources in our current pandemic. Seth A Smith’s third feature, Tin Can, is that nightmare in all its weird, wet, claustrophobic glory.
The film is bathed in septic ambers, reds, and half-glimpsed damp metallic surfaces, and shot in a tight squarish aspect ratio that is commensurate with its heroine's titular confinement. It trafficks in imagery of bundled tubes and intrusive medical girdles, extreme close-ups of a woman trapped in a medical procedure she did not agree to, and frankly, does not even know what it entails. A kafka-esque medical ‘Trial’ where she is probably not in the placebo group.
Non-stop nightmare fuel is contrasted with flashbacks of minimalist, calmingly white lobbies, and clean collaborate laboratories of the Vase corporation, a health-care research operation whose competency is on extending old age for its wealthy private donors. You do not, however, want to see how the sausage is made in the basement of such start-up ventures. Of course, we do, and the slimy industrial nightmares are now yours.
Director Seth A Smith certainly has a knack for mucus and salt water. His creepy drug-trip creature feature Lowlife, released about a decade ago, captured the endless scrubby evergreens and moss covered rocky moors of Nova Scotia, and his follow-up feature mined the psychological anxieties of parenting in coastal isolation, and the dangerous sounds of the sea. In his filmmaking, psychotropic paranoia abounds, but he never loses focus on the personal human aspects, amongst the hallucinatory. The Crescent took on the technical and storytelling challenge of the lead character being only two years old.
He has the wonderfully malleable face of Anna Hopkins, a Canadian actress most familiar on genre television, such as her role as a feisty investigative reporter in the space opera The Expanse. She can go from composed professional to sweaty victim to ass-kicking leadership effortlessly, all of this in audaciously-lit close-ups.
Here she is Fret, a young professional researcher at Vase, whose scientific specialty is slime molds. I'm sure Fret got a kick out of watching Jasper Sharp's documentary The Creeping Garden, as she has a passion for her field of study.
Recruited by her boyfriend to apply her expertise to longevity techniques for rich hold people, the Vase corporation is forced to pivot to finding a cure when a Canadian epidemic of bacterial infection derails the country and crushes the public healthcare system. Fret thinks she may have made a major scientific breakthrough, before, well… best to experience the turn of events as they unfold; in the obfuscation & order of the controlled craft of the narrative.
All is, of course, not what it seems.
Smith slowly opens his mystery box from Fret’s reawakening; “Welcome Back,” the computer intones in her spherical containment pod, in a manner reminiscent of Mother in Alien. Within her confinement, and limited vocal interactions with others in the same situation -- strangers, corporate donors (a muted Micheal Ironside is one of these, albeit a muted performance), and even fellow employees -- all are grist for the medical mill.
In Tin Can, the experience is of a piece with classic David Cronenberg joint: Body Horror fused with social anxiety. As Videodrome amplified the pearl-clutching fear of late night violence & sex on the Canadian television of the eighties into bizarro TV snuff network, and shadowy mind control of its protagonist, so does Tin Can take the anxieties of medical procedures and experimental vaccines in our current age, and put its heroine through the ringer. As Vincenzo Natali’s micro-budgeted Cube maximized a few cramped sets into a large-scaled puzzle-box of science fiction dread, so too does Tin Can.
Smith also shows a subtle flair for metaphor here: Note the fabric flowers showcased under the succinct but epic opening titles, and how such an unlikely image (at odds with nearly everything else) plays out over the hour and forty minute runtime.
There is a narrative stumble or two along the way, mainly involving an infidelity subplot. It threatens to diminish the empathy built early into the film, perhaps by design, but still, it is a challenging already with the unusual two-part structure, and additional flashbacks further woven throughout. It demand even engaged viewers to pay attention, to keep up with all the plot details, but there is no denying the sizeable ambition of this particular vision. One that is not always the most audience friendly. Singular visions rarely are. I would have loved to have seen this, in all its suffocating and sonic glory, on a huge cinema screen, with great sound.
Those who like bold, experimental, and slow-burn genre cinema, and can stomach the kind of choking noises and visual discomfort of a character (or three) slowly pulling out metre long feeding tubes, would be well-advised to check out Smith’s ideas on how just far humanity will go to triumph at whatever diseases and age can can throw at the species. After the weird, harrowing journey of Tin Can you definitely, DEFINITELY, do not want to be intubated.
Tin Can is now released in the USA on VOD. This review was originally posted for Fantasia, 2021.