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.
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.”
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.”
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.