Above what appears to be the ruins of a multi-storey car park the skies are clear and the stars are out, Orion, the ancient hunter of myth, high in the sky while below in the wasteland known as the Rust the few survivors scrabble through the dirt, hoping to find a juicy rat for supper. Among them is the Magus, a mystic who reads the cards and watches the stars, taking notes of what he has seen and looking for patterns.
It is a century after the collapse, with humanity on the brink of extinction and civilisation is distant memory, yet hope has persisted in the form of a prophecy that after the drought and the war a saviour will come who will become the living embodiment of Orion, his fate foretold in the cards.
Held captive by the Magus is the Virgin whose child is part of the prophecy, and into their world comes the Hunter whom he offers water and meat, but as the men play cards she signals to the newcomer for help, warning that the Magus is a shapeshifter, a gambler, a death dealer. She will take the Hunter to where there are other survivors, a community, but to cross the wilderness is to invite danger, but then, where in this world is safe?
Defying categorisation and description, Orion is mystical, brutal and impressionistic, a ragged shoestring of belief in the vision of writer/director Asiel Norton filmed in the derelict slums of Detroit under grey cloudy skies by day and by the light of fires or burning torches at night with only the briefest flashes of true sunshine breaking through to tease distant memories from their slumber.
Less of a specific narrative than a stream of consciousness of tangled myth thrown into a post-apocalyptic world, it is an experience rather than a story and will not be for every audience, bleak, violent and unflinching, yet with T K Broderick’s minimal score and Lyn Moncrief’s cinematography raising the desolate ruined architecture and the brittle, empty lives to a tragic beauty.
Carried almost wordlessly by Bone Tomahawk’s David Arquette in a performance unlike anything with which he has previously been associated in a career defined by mainstream credibility and The Last Days on Mars’ Goran Kostic, dangerous and impenetrable, between the Hunter and the Magus is Snow White and the Huntsman’s Lily Cole as the Virgin.
Her ethereal beauty blending with the otherworldly feeling which permeates the film, her pondering of whether it was the Magus himself who caused the apocalypse recalls the role of Merlin in The Changes as do aspects of the setting and the quest, while the contradictory role of the Magus as both instigator who pushes forward the prophecy yet must be defeated in order for it to reach completion there is much of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, another Arthurian tale.
Through the visions gifted by the blood, the Hunter comes to understand the grief of a world lost, and there are echoes of Alan Garner’s Red Shift in the fluid approach to time, cause and effect and the overlaying of myth and modernity, and Robin of Sherwood in the foregrounding of myth and archetype and the soft-focused haze through which the bloody world is seen.
In this post-industrial wasteland everything is gone, not even so much left as Max Rockatansky enjoyed, and the promised “civilisation” is a bit of a stretch, a handful of gaunt stragglers clad in rags eating meat raw from the carcass, and filming in what appears to be a derelict industrial site adds scope and realism to the modest production.
Graphically violent in places, Orion is a primal experience which eschews explanation and wilfully defies analysis, glacial in the steady pace of abstract weirdness and frustrating as much as rewarding, yet it is undeniably quite unlike anything in the current cinematic landscape.