Directed by Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper.
Starring Raffiella Chapman, Eddie Marsan, Rosy McEwen, Richard Brake, Melanie Gaydos, Edmund Dehn, Matvej Buravkov, Marijus Demiskis, Markas Eimontas, Titas Rukas, and Markas Sagaitis.
After the collapse of Earth’s ecosystem, Vesper, a 13-year-old girl struggling to survive with her paralyzed father, meets a woman with a secret who will force her to use her wits, strengths, and bio-hacking abilities to fight for the possibility of having a future.
As profoundly prescient and personal as the world-building is in Vesper, the character dynamics are arguably further compelling. From the directorial duo of Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper (also conceiving the story and penning the script alongside Brian Clark), viewers are dropped into what an exposition graphic refers to as The New Dark Ages. To summarize, the world didn’t collectively manage an ecological crisis, choosing to react with an overreliance on biogenetic technology. Humans, animals, and nature border on extinction, with new, aggressively deadly organisms atop the hierarchy. The average Joes are left struggling for survival, whereas the wealthy elite has constructed sanctuary citadels.
13-year-old Vesper (a remarkably mature turn from Raffiella Chapman, founded on scientific intelligence, resourcefulness, grit, resiliency, and inspiring determination) is one of those commoners. When not hunting for food (people seem to eat worms and whatever organisms are nonlethal), she resides in an isolated forest home tending to her bedridden, paralyzed father, Darius. However, technology has allowed Darius’s consciousness to be transferred to a drone, able to speak and communicate (albeit distortedly, as if the audio is being channeled through a voice changer), excellently played by Richard Brake in both physical and voiceover form.
Whether Darius is expressing cynical or comforting thoughts, the voice booms, simultaneously strict and ominous, in his protection of his daughter. If Hollywood gave out awards for voice acting (which they really should by now), Richard Brake would be a front runner here (not to say that awards are the only or even the most important metric of quality and success, but it’s a reminder that many facets of acting and filmmaking craft still go unnoticed today).
Nearby is Darius’s brother, where Vesper heads upon running out of bacteria to power the generator that connects the body to the drone. Unfortunately, Jonas (a menacing Eddie Marsan) is a jaded and cruel man exploiting his children to find food and sell blood to the citadel (which is disappointingly never explained why beyond the vagueness of wanting to live forever, suggesting something vampiric) in exchange for precious seeds good for one harvest (which is practically nothing).
Jonas also straight-up murders an escaped Jug (ghostly white synthetic human beings meant to serve their citadel owners) in front of the children. There is no such thing as a good deed in his eyes, willing to let Darius suffer and potentially die until he gets rewarded from the blood Vesper donates per the transaction. Accounting for all that, it should be no surprise that the children are savage bullies more than willing to attack Vesper for not succumbing to this warped status quo.
Another good thing comes from visiting Darius; Vesper occasionally steals some of those seeds to analyze in her sequestered greenhouse, putting her scientific knowledge and admissions to the test, searching for a means to unlock its coding for bigger harvesting. She conducts all sorts of synthetic and biological experiments there, bringing about new life imaginatively realized with passable CGI that rises above budget constraints to deliver majestic beauty (the entire film is visually striking, making it no surprise that concept art rolls across the entire ending credits). From the first frame that sees Vesper maneuvering through muddy and upended terrain, it’s evident that the imagery has been handled with mesmerizing care. The same goes for simple setups such as Darius’ bedroom, his fragile look, and every other faction of characters given distinct visual and personality traits.
This character dynamics are further complicated by the crash landing arrival of young citadel girl Camellia (Rosy McEwen), injured and medically taken care of by Vesper. Upon awakening, Camellia immediately wants to search for her father, who should be nearby. This creates a slight rift between Vesper and her father, with the latter highly distrustful of the citadel (for good, socially relevant reasons). However, this is also where the script shifts into something more character-focused, dialing in and juxtaposing the relationships these two girls have with their fathers, keeping their wildly different ways of life in mind. As each endures grief, they bond, taking turns supporting one another, revealing new character layers each time.
There is also a revelation regarding Camellia that further expands on parental bonds, although it’s one of the few world-building areas that could use a bit more depth. The same could be said about “Pilgrims,” a group described as faceless scavengers that feel underutilized and unexplored. There’s also the feeling that the conclusion to Vesper leaves something to be desired and isn’t as emotionally rewarding as it could be, although it is welcome that the antagonistic Darius is not fully one-dimensional.
Still, the chemistry between Raffiella Chapman and Rosy McEwen is tender and rebellious (there are multiple tense action scenes toward the end that smartly make use of the altered environment), charging the growing overarching narrative that the world (fictional or not) is fucked and that the children, unfairly, will rise to the occasion saving it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com