One of the most highly anticipated films of Fantasia International Film Festival, Asiel Norton’s ORION stars David Arquette crossing a post-apocalyptic wasteland with a virgin mother from prophesy, in search of the last city of survivors. Any follower of science fiction knows that the most important work is always done before the camera even rolls, in the crafting of world on paper, and the creation of the sets and costumes. Orion arrives on screen fully formed, dropping character archetypes into a meticulous landscape of symbolism and history. The film has a simple, direct plot, but the depth of the world the characters trudge through, and the thought behind what plays out on screen, place Orion into singular territory, and makes the writer/director a voice to watch.

ORION-LILY AND DAVID
“Personally I’m just really interested in mythology, and I read a lot of books on comparative mythologies,” Asiel Norton told me just hours before his World Premiere; “a lot of early psycho-analytical works, particularly Carl Jung and Emma Jung, were influences in their analytic take on symbolism.” Orion has always been the ‘hunter’ in our skies, and Arquette plays this archetypical character on a quest that he knows full well may save the world. Along the way, guideposts from our past shape his journey, like a reading from a tarot deck. But there are plenty of ‘relics’ around, all the junk from our world. “The idea sort of was that after the collapse of civilization,” the director says, “as all technology and everything is taken away, obviously human beings are going to start forming new mythologies.”

With the woman in Arquette’s car being known as a ‘virgin mother,’ the Christian ideology cannot be ignored. In fact, many of religious symbols cast a shadow from our beliefs into the future world of The Hunter, from rosaries to icons, right down to hanging a man from a cross . “If you are living a hundred years after the collapse of civilization, you will see symbols,” Norton explains, “there is trash everywhere, they’re living amongst the ruins of our civilization.” The people may live in an abandoned church, with a cross hanging over them, but they’ve built a new mythology around it, it means something new to them in this age. It reminds me of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, where the innocent Eloi are called back time and time again to the underground bunkers when they hear the sirens blare, a learned behavior from days long gone. Still, if Joseph Campbell has taught us anything, it’s that all stories are essentially one story, read differently by different cultures. The writer/director agrees: “We have these instinctual images in our mind called archetypes, these archetypes are born over and over again throughout human history around the world. The stories we tell, the myths we create are very very similar all through time, all civilizations.”

If Orion feels a bit of a leap for David Arquette, that’s exactly what Norton was excited about. “He’s never done anything like this, which is intriguing to me as a director,” he admits, “like ‘oh, can I get this guy to do something I’ve never seen him do before?’” But there was more to it than that. “Obviously when you’re casting a movie you’re meeting several people,” Norton explains, “but then when I was talking to him [Arquette], he just has a very unusual energy. Some of these other people that I was talking to, they were great, but I just didn’t think they were realistic in a post-apocalyptic world. If you’re out there going through a wasteland, struggling to survive, you’re going to be an odd person.” Norton says Arquette was great to work with and down for everything. “I had him doing stuff in low-budget situations, horrid shooting situations,” he says, “he totally took a leap of faith on me to come out and do crazy shit.”

To create the post-apocalyptic setting, Norton and his team set up in Detroit, and it’s there where they found someone who became an indispensible member of the Orion world. The director was walking around Detroit (don’t try this at home – or rather in Detroit), scouting locations, etc., and he came across a group of artists working in what was basically a fallen down house. “And I was like ‘this looks post-apocalyptic, this looks like my movie’ and I was like I want this girl, Monica Canilao, I just want this girl on the movie,” Norton remembers, “I don’t even know what her title is, she’s just going to be on the movie.” He explains there is always a bit of politics on set when bringing in someone from outside the world of cinema (and one would suspect, of unions), but he would not be deterred. “I’m like ‘I don’t give a shit what she is, she’s just gonna be there,’” he says. As she worked, she gradually took on more and more roles, and ended up designing the costumes, and sharing the production design credit. “She was so great to work with,” Norton continues, “because she’s an artist, she’s down to do whatever. Where everyone else is worried about safety and all that stuff, she didn’t give a shit.” The director knew immediatley in meeting her that she got the world he was trying to make, and hopes she will continue to work in film, remarking “this post-apocalyptic vibe was right in her sweet spot.”

When the cameras finally DID turn on, Norton made another bold choice, much of the film is shot in close up. “I definitely like to get in there,” he says, “it just feels emotionally powerful to me.” Another thing it does is provide for a great deal of contrast, able to switch between these long takes of the emptiness of the world, and these tight ones of the inhabitants, and their interactions. “I wanted the film to be very pretty but I also wanted it to feel a little rough,” Norton says, “so working with those long lenses and moving the camera around, just felt a little rough, hopefully it has a little organic grit.”

Orion is an evocative movie, it reminds me much more of Jodorowsky’s El Topo than George Miller’s Mad Max. Even the ending, which, arguably, is pretty anti-climatic after the legacy and mythology built up through the first two-thirds of the movie, conjures up the anti-hero stories of the seventies, where the ending is just where the film ends, rather than really drawing the story to a conclusion. Whether Norton has a wider world in mind for The Hunter and this is just the first chapter, or if this is just another example of simple and direct archetypical storytelling remains to be seen.

Orion made its World Premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival this last weekend, it’s next screening has yet to be announced.

Bears Fonte covers indie film for AMFM Magazine and programs and consults for film festivals nationwide.  He is the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival as well as the former Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival.  His short The Secret Keeper played at 40 festivals, his feature iCrime was released in 2011 by Vicious Circle.

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