Here in Canada, we’re lucky to have such a rich and diverse movie industry. Sure, Hollywood-made films may draw much of the world’s attention, but Canadian actors and moviemakers have been quietly perfecting their craft for decades now, creating lesser-known productions that have eluded mainstream attention.
In today’s post, we’ll dive into three underrated Canadian movies, from a cult Sci-Fi gem to a heart-breaking exploration of changing relationships.
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Release Date: 1997
The movie industry is so saturated today that SciFi horrors are ten a penny, but a few decades ago, one film really stood out among cinephiles for its unique premise. While it never achieved the mainstream success it deserved, Vincenzo Natali’s Cube nevertheless has become a modern cult favorite.
Cube actually marked the directorial debut of Natali, but neither his relative inexperience nor the movie’s low production budget diminished its originality or execution. Starring a troupe of Canadian character actors (Nicole de Boer, David Hewlett, Nicky Guadagni, and Andrew Miller), the film revolves around a group of individuals who wake up in a strange maze filled with deadly mystery rooms. They quickly find out that if they want to survive the cube they’ll need to work together to navigate through it.
Filmed on location in Toronto, Ontario, the movie features a simple but effective set design, which, combined with creative lighting and camera work, contributes to its surreal and eerie atmosphere. In fact, its low-budget design only enhances the imaginative storytelling on display throughout.
Cube has gained a dedicated fan base over the years, with cult movie buffs appreciating its originality and ability to provoke discussions around complex ideas about human nature, society, and the unknown. It may be approaching 30 years old, but Cube is more than worthy of being discovered by a new generation of cinema lovers.
The Last Casino
Director: Pierre Gill
The casino industry has long been an object of fascination for moviemakers all across the world. We’ve all either seen or heard of Scorsese’s Casino, for example, and directors often use casino games to convey drama or suspense, from images of the ball spinning in a roulette wheel to the iconic sounds of a slot machine hitting the jackpot.
Here in the digital age, cinema has in turn gone on to impact the online casino gaming experience, particularly in the sectors of themed online slots. Real life slot machines have, of course, been “themed” for decades, but the advancements made in digital gaming tech have been able to take tie-ins to the next level, with authentic graphics and soundtracks featuring in online slot games. Platforms like PokerStars Casino often feature numerous slots titles based on hit movies like Forrest Gump, Jurassic Park, and the Star Wars saga. While we’re yet to see any films released based on a digital casino, Canada has delivered its cinematic take on gaming with The Last Casino.
Directed by Pierre Gill and written by Steven Western, The Last Casino is a dramatic portrayal of the story of a professor of mathematics who attempts to recruit his brightest students into the practice of card counting. Starring Charles Martin Smith and Katherine Isabelle, this movie was released solely on TV but it delivered an interesting take on the usual heist and casino fare. While it may not have received widespread international recognition, the film has been praised for its engaging storyline, solid performances and its willingness to authentically portray the consequences of attempting to outsmart the system.
Away From Her
Director: Sarah Polley
The final hidden gem movie we’ll be discussing today is another directorial debut, this time of the acclaimed Canadian actress Sarah Polley. This adaptation (also by the multi-talented Polley) of Alice Muntro’s short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain stars a veritable Hollywood legend, Julie Christie. With such accomplished women both behind and in front of the camera, Away From Her naturally received critical acclaim and several award nominations following its release — including an Academy Award nomination for Julie Christie. Over the years it’s been forgotten, but we think it’s time that was remedied!
Filmed primarily in Ontario, Away From Her delivers a sensitive portrayal of the impact of Alzheimer’s on a decades-long marriage. Telling the story of Fiona (Christie) and Grant (Gordon Pinsent), whose relationship declines in parallel with Fiona’s battle with memory loss, the movie poignantly delves into the complexities of long-term relationships and what happens when a new bond is struck elsewhere.