Vesper Review: A Beautiful Sci-Fi Thriller With a Doomsday Heart

Polygon is at Fantastic Fest 2022, reporting on new horror, sci-fi, hit and action movies coming to theaters and streaming. This review was published in conjunction with the Fantastic Fest movie premiere.

Grim futures and hopeless episodes are so common on screens that they feel like the default mode for sci-fi storytelling, especially in low-budget films. It’s hard for a crapsack world or future fascist astigmatism to stand out above all others, when so many sci-fi stories warn us about how every aspect of our lives could lead us to some kind of apocalypse. Indie sci-fi movie Vesper is no exception to that rule – it takes place in a future where the Earth is almost uninhabitable and the survivors hide in luminous enclaves called Citadels or make a living in the ruins. outside the walls of the Citadels. But out-of-date sci-fi rarely has as fine and fine detail as Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper’s new film.

Vesper at the same time play like an indie game with the tightest budget in the field Two and like Alex Garland’s $50 million passion project Destruction. It’s a small-scale story, sometimes hidden and so minimalistic that putting two characters in the same room can feel overwhelming. But in their first film since the well-received sci-fi import in 2012 Melting waves, Buozyte and Samper have done an impressive job of creating a tangible, logical world around these tranquil spaces. The setting tells the story as effectively as any arduous exhibit can.

Vesper (Raffiella Chapman) and Camellia (Rosy McEwen) stand in Vesper's dark, crowded laboratory in Vesper

Image: IFC Films

Open title tag label VesperThe ugly version of the future is “The New Dark Ages”. Faced with environmental collapse, humanity has tried to avert the disaster through genetic engineering. But viruses and mutated organisms have escaped into the wild and taken on the role of invasive species, wiping out Earth’s primordial biosphere and replacing it with aggressive new life forms. The only seeds that will still grow come from the Citadel laboratories and are designed to produce sterile crops, so outsiders have to exchange or purchase new seeds each growing season.

13-year-old Vesper (Raffiella Chapman) is determined to apply what she knows about science to the problem, and she tinkers in a filthy lab, splice DNA to figure out how to unlock the seeds of the Citadel or grow your own edible plants. But the project has to falter in order to survive, as she tries to feed herself and her paralyzed father, Darius (Richard Brake), with anything she can glean or obtain from the destructive environment. their death.

There is no timeline for when or how any of this happened, but the setup shows all the signs of a world that was much more advanced than we were before it fell apart. . Darius can’t move or talk, but a hole drilled into his brain allows him to accompany Vesper on her rings via a teleportation drone through which he constantly nags about her choices and how much time she wastes trying to make their lives better. Meanwhile, Darius’s silent predator brother, Jonas (Eddie Marsan), runs a small, rough estate nearby, where he raises a cub whose blood is a valuable commodity in the trade. with the Imperial City.

While Vesper is his niece and hasn’t gone through puberty yet, he’s made no secret that he wants her as a breed. In a genre where evil often comes in the form of robotic killer armies or towering, powerful villains, Darius stands out as a kind of monster with more depth and personality than only in solo. right, knowing the way he looked at Vesper when she came to him. a crisis and boundary-challenging ways he touches her when they both know she can’t afford to anger him.

Then, a drone from one of the Citadels crashes near his area, and Vesper finds an elf woman named Camellia (Rosy McEwen) injured near the wreckage. Camellia promises that if Vesper gets her and her father, Elias, safely to the Citadel, Vesper will get her own entrance. It’s everything Vesper wanted – but naturally, the offer comes with some big perks.

VesperThe base story of the story plays out in ways familiar to small sci-fi movies like Potential and oversized and pompous like Place of paradise. Whenever a group of face-to-face almighty elites confront a single group determined not to live in their shadow, it is clear that many small hopes are built and extinguished along the way. looking for some way forward, and almost everyone else in the story is there to get favors from those elites and get in the way of the protagonist. Vesper doesn’t do enough to distinguish its dynamics from so many other films like it; a lot of its actions seem inevitable and there is almost no room for surprise.

And the film as a whole often feels like a collection of elements from other memorable, often confusing sci-fi movies: shoddy technology, father-daughter animations, and alien worlds. scary elf of Potential; solemn intellectuals and the inevitable oppression of Duncan Jones’ Moon; the bleak palette and the strained, exhausted despair of Men’s children; and more. Vesper would make a comfortable double with any of them – or with movies like Road, Survivoror Goods.

Vesper (Raffiella Chapman) holds her hand over a delicate, vibrant flower that stretches tassels towards her in Vesper

Image: IFC Films

But what makes? Vesper memorable is not the originality of the ideas, but the originality of the way they are expressed. The difference begins with Chapman’s performance in the title role; she’s not a fierce hero, fighting in so many stories of a backward future, but a cautious, cautious survivalist who, despite being only 13 years old, has clearly learned caution and careful. Chapman and the script give Vesper a gritty form that feels unusual for this kind of story. Every step of hers acknowledges her history, as a young teenager with too much responsibility and too much freedom. Her father may oppose her, but he can’t do anything to stop her from doing what he wants. She excuses her choices for him, but doesn’t apologize or regret. She’s both meek and iron-willed, and it’s a fascinating combination.

The little details about her past and the world that emanate from that performance are all the more welcome because no one has to spell them out. The same goes for production design and world building. It is found in the small details, like the delicately rendered face on Darius’ hover drone, clearly drawn by a much younger Vesper who is trying to make him. I seem more like a pleasant human being. Or it’s found in intriguing mysteries, like the secret behind the “pilgrims,” ​​who silently hide their faces and constantly collect inedible crumbs to transport to an unknown destination. certain determination. No one bothered to explain about the giant, decomposing octopus-like machines scattered all over the place – like similar robots in the series. Amazon’s Tales from the Loop seriesthey were only part of the world’s backdrop, an obvious relic of an earlier failed attempt to reclaim the world for a wider range of humanity than the few survivors left.

VesperChapman’s strongest asset, aside from Chapman’s unyielding determination and Marsan’s subtle, shrewd menace, is the way special effects are used to bring to that world an ominous array of life. seemingly limitless. Condition Vesper found Camellia – with slow moving tentacles things (plant? animal? Both? Neither?) the chance to fix all of her wounds – both are appalled, and treated in an extraordinary way as the obvious result of a someone is unconscious outside. Everywhere Vesper passed, disturbing things twitched, throbbed, or gaped hungrily on trees and plants. When Darius’ hover drone unfolds, it reveals an astonishing form of Cronenbergian biotech, all with folds, membranes, and thick, sticky goop layers. Even the ships of the Citadel looked like disturbing insect monsters.

Sure, sci-fi fans like the fast spins and frequent action sequences of Star Wars shows like Mandalorian and Books by Boba Fett will complain that Vesper too slow and too quiet. It was a legitimate appeal to people who said the same thing about Destructionor similar by Andrei Tarkovsky Stalker before it, or any other work of science fiction that is more intellectual than physical. But for sci-fi fans who love Moon or Kogonada‘S After Yang, Vesper is a rich delight: a story familiar enough, but told with thousands of terrifying, vibrant, vital notes.

Vesper will hit theaters and on VOD on September 30.

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