Monday, September 26, 2022

Buozyte & Samper’s Vesper

This titular teenaged girl is a budding Dr. Frankenstein of botany. She has a talent for splicing together partially sentient plant-things. Apparently, that is a good thing, because her post-apocalyptic world is not dangerous enough already. Unfortunately, the world-building is solely concerned with visuals and has no regard for logic in Kristina Buozyte & Bruno Samper’s Vesper, which opens this Friday in New York.

In the dystopian future, people no longer act out of logical motives or incentives. They just behave the way screenwriters need them to. The elites in the mega-city “citadels” are going to be evil and Vesper, the plucky bio-engineering teen caring for her paralyzed father Darius, will be impossibly noble. He lost his mobility while serving in the Citadel’s army, so they fitted him out with a hovering drone to serve as his real-world avatar—and then cut him loose.

Father and daughter live in the no man’s land surrounding the Citadel. They even spurned the grubby survivalist community led by Vesper’s gangster-like uncle Jonas, but they are still forced to trade with him for the bacteria that powers her father’s life-support system. Vesper hopes deliverance might finally be at-hand when she gives shelter to a Citadel resident who crashed in the wasteland. She hopes her talents for bio-engineering will earn her a place in the mega-city, with a referral from Camelia. However, it quickly becomes clear the mysterious woman is in fact not the potentially helpful power-broker she made herself out to be.

is an amazing looking film, but the social systems it posits are simplistic at best. Why would the Citadel create these revolutionary potent seeds and then just keep them locked up, awaiting a dissident to steal them? What exactly is their end game? Being mean is not a sufficient answer. Yet, Buozyte and Samper clearly expect critics will reflexively accept and praise their crude class warfare, which has indeed been the case so far.

In a way, those awesome visuals are a bit of a tease, because we only see those striking behemoths featured on the poster from a distance and therefore are never allowed to explore their mysteries. Weirdly, there is also a crazy cult compulsively stacking objects, sort of like the zombies in
Cell, but you have to admit lifting from one of the least prestigious Stephen King movies is an unconventionally original proposition.

It is too bad more thought was not devoted to the how’s and why’s of this world, because
Vesper boasts some excellent performances. Eddie Marsan plays Jonas with a tragic sadness we rarely see from villains. It might be worth watching the film just for his performance. Noted horror specialist Richard Brake also gives one of the bests voice-over performances of the year as Darius.

Clearly, the muddy, mucky, swampy post-apocalyptic environment is inspired by vintage Soviet and Eastern European science fiction, like
Stalker and Dead Man’s Letters. It is an impressively tactile viewing experience, but it is not nearly as cerebral as it thinks it is. Wait for free streaming via your apps and services, and then simply for its design artistry. Vesper just doesn’t fulfill it visual promise when it opens this Friday (9/30) at the IFC Center.