After making its North American Premiere in the Fantasia Film Festival’s Camera Lucida sidebar, Seth A. Smith’s dystopian sci-fi thriller “Tin Can” was picked up by Canada’s levelFILM for domestic distribution.

In the film, a new fungal disease called Coral is spreading rapidly across the planet. Parasitologist Fret is working on a possible treatment when she is attacked outside her workplace, waking up an unspecific amount of time later in a claustrophobic life prolonging cryochamber. Not knowing where she is, how she got there or why, Fret fights to escape the confines of her cell, learning that there are others from her past similarly confined in nearby chambers of their own.

Nova Scotia-based Cut/Off/Tail Pictures, producers of Smith’s previous award-winning feature “The Crescent,” also backed “Tin Can,” a Panorama Audience Award finalist at Sitges 2020. Smith teamed once again with long-time colleague Darcy Spidle on the screenplay and with Cut/Off/Tail Pictures’ Nancy Urich, who produced the film.

Following the film’s domestic premiere, Smith spoke with Variety about worldbuilding, the film’s origins and how COVID-19 delayed its distribution.

Can you talk a bit about making this film? The development and production, what help you got along the way in terms of awards or grants at project level?

I had just finished “The Crescent” and wanted to do something less real, more in the fantasy/sci-fi realm. Darcy and I had talked about doing a single location dungeon film, interested in the creative restrictions it would bring. After we wrote it, Brandon Cronenberg gave us some great script notes which helped. Then, Telefilm came on board to make it with our production company Cut/Off/Tail. We were able to find an industrial warehouse where they had shot some of “The Lighthouse.” And thanks to our amazing production designer, Matt Likely, we were able to build a number of spaces and spend a month in a dark, unsettling environment.

This is your third time working with Darcy and Nancy, and I wonder if you could talk a bit about that dynamic.

I think there’s a nice chemistry between us. We’ve been pals since we were playing in bands. Darcy’s a talented wordsmith, I’m a visual guy, and Nancy is a grounded creative producer with a good business mind. So we fill in each other’s blanks a bit. Mainly they fill in my blanks. And we all have the same sick humor and taste for artistic deviance.

I love a good sci-fi set, and the aesthetic of “Tin Can” makes a lasting impression. How did you develop the look of your world? And can you talk a bit about contrasting the world from the beginning of the film and Fret’s flashbacks, pretty similar to our world, and the one in which she and the others eventually wake up? The contrast is shocking.

The aesthetics came from wanting to do a more medieval, primitive future. Most science fiction movies are filled with screens, tech, and gadgets. I’ve kind of seen enough of that. The use of flashbacks came from thinking about what dreams would be like if you were suspended in hibernation for an indeterminate amount of time. In a way, you’d be trapped in a dream. That could be a scary thing. Practically, having them bright and wide offered a nice contrast to show how stark and confined the dungeon stuff was. If you’re in darkness long enough, eventually it starts to feel not so dark.

This film is obsessed with confinement. Almost every character is trapped in one way or another at some point. What made you want to approach the subject of confinement in this film, and how did you decide on the ways in which you would manifest that theme?

Underneath, we were telling a break-up story, so we were kind of looking at claustrophobic feelings within a relationship. With the physical imprisonment, visually it was interesting to play with space. Different layers, dimensions. Dungeons within dungeons. How small can a confinement be?

Speaking of confinement, how did the COVID-19 crisis affect this film? You shot in Spring of ’19, so I imagine distribution has been an issue.

I like to do a lot of extra shots myself after principal photography’s done, and it took some time. But yeah, COVID-19 came and things closed down just as we were finishing and getting ready to share. So it was hard to sit on it after a long post production, waiting to see how things would shake out. But most of all, it was just really strange having to go through a pandemic after just going through the fantasy version. It’s been interesting to see how the reading of the movie can change with time.

Have you got your next project planned, or perhaps even started? Do you want to do more work in genre cinema?

I’ll be premiering an animated short, “Dust Bath,” at Toronto this September. But yes, we’re very much ready for the next thing. There are a few things in the works: An adaptation of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows,” a rotoscoped fantasy epic called “Beshader” and Nancy has a cool breastfeeding horror called “Feed.” So yeah, we’re still on the weird train.

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Tin Can Credit: Cut/Off/Tail Pictures