Synopsis – A man afflicted with clairvoyance tries to change his fate when a series of events leads to a vision of his own imminent murder.
My Take – As a sci fi fan I am always on the prowl to find myself some time travel shenanigans to enjoy irrespective of the budget or the cast involved, provided the film is ready to leave me suitably entertained. That is how I ended up watching this clever indie Canadian science fiction thriller helmed by first time director Tony Dean Smith, who co-wrote the film with his brother, Ryan W. Smith.
While it certainly isn’t the first one to deal with premonitions or the notions of time travel or a one to talk about destiny vs. fate, as popular films like Source Code, Looper, Predestination, along with the Final Destination franchise have pretty much overdubbed those concepts many times before, however, at an independent level, it is surprising to see the finesse with which it was produced, more impressive so for a film that was shot in just 17 days.
Winning the best feature at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival, this endlessly twisty sci-fi thriller enmeshes the concepts of clairvoyance and time travel in such a way that seems it seems so obviously perfect. Instead of finding ourselves along with the characters stuck in the usual endless temporal loop, the action rapidly moves between time periods in a novel and interesting way. The essential clues are there and do make sense and not everything is necessarily what it seems.
Yes, the characters are not massively deep enough, and yes, there are a plot few holes here and there with continuity bloopers, but the Smith brothers, expertly handle the film’s great ideas and hold fast your attention from the start through to the very end, all the while delivering a well-polished effort despite their budgetary limitations.
The story follows James (Adrian Glynn McMorran), who has been struggling with clairvoyance ever since he was young. Now as an adult, he uses these visionary fragments in order to avoid paying his late rent to his impatient landlord, swipe cigarettes from unsuspecting strangers on the street, and get ahead in small time bets at the local bar. While trying to scrounge the five hundred dollars he owes before he’s evicted, but when his path crosses with Angela (Magda Apanowicz), a struggling newbie in the city, his outlook on life begins to change.
But James is pulled back into the criminal life by an old pal Sal (Frank Cassini) and his new mate, Terry (Aleks Paunovic), to do a final bidding for Ray (John Cassini), a residential crime lord, who intends to use James’ visionary attributes to make millions by helping in the transportation of a bag of diamonds. And with James already having a vision of the hand-off going without a hitch, it seemed like an easy $100,000 win for him too.
But his easy payday quickly disintegrates when James sees himself dying in the not too distant future. With danger lurking around everywhere, and nowhere else to go, with Angela by his side, James turns to Elliot (Bill Marchant), a scientist and his foster father who took him in after his mother’s death and has definitely more answers about the extent of his abilities.
The film moves along at a good pace throughout, partly due to a solid script and partly due to its tight editing. And while some of what happens in the film isn’t entirely new ground, the way film executes those moments is nicely done.
While the first act plays like an indie crime-thriller, it is only in the second act where the film starts to unveil how good it really is, as it goes from a straight-forward, crime gone wrong chase film to a high concept puzzle box of a sci-fi thriller that takes astonishing and brilliant conceptual turns, which the Smith brothers have clearly spent a lot of time and effort trying to achieve the perfect balance of several elements.
An elaborate cinematic puzzle box that requires the utmost concentration to decipher, and all packed within a tightly paced 91 minute runtime, that lets the brothers reach for and grasp big time science fiction ideas and bend it with a fresh, new approach.
However, what’s most fascinating about the film that despite a concept which could easily work with a chock full of action and special effect, manages to do as well by being small and mundane.
Any story that deals with seeing glimpses of the future naturally addresses the issue of fate versus free will, an existential debate the Smith Brothers don’t shy away from. Is it better to know what is coming, or better not to know? The question is a fascinating one, but the film allows itself to raise other, tangential questions too, more on the cerebral level as it forces us to consider aspects of own existence: To what extent are our lives and indeed our possible futures determined by the choices we make and the free will we exercise? OR Is free will just an illusion and are we merely playing roles that have been predetermined along the road towards a fate that is set in stone?
Of course, no film is entirely perfect. For an instance, the moment when Angela, discovers Jack’s ability to see the future, and some of the dialogue at that moment seems a bit too easy. Even the last half of the film can be hard to follow and will likely require multiple viewings to figure out. There’s a big puzzle for James and the audience to figure out.
The main cast comprising of actors you’ve never heard of before, but may have seen in the background or in minuscule roles in big budget films, do manage to bring in some very competent and strong performances. Adrian McMorran, especially, puts in a strong and believable performance, finding edges in his character that keeps the audience rooting for him, while his supporting cast, Magda Apanowicz, John Cassini, Frank Cassini, Aleks Paunovic and Bill Marchant manage to hold their own. On the whole, ‘Volition’ is an endlessly twisty mind-bending sci-fi thriller that deserves attention for being clever and inventive.
“NOW AVAILABLE ON APPLE TV, PRIME VIDEO & OTHER DIGITAL PLATFORMS”
Directed – Tony Dean Smith
Rated – NR
Run Time – 91 minutes