The narrative possibilities of genetics are boundless. Considering it is genes that dictate every manner of life, the ability to change these in any way (and associated problems when such change spirals out of control) can open up pretty much any story you wish to tell. Vesper, co-directed by Lithuanian movie maker Kristina Buožyté, chooses a story of squelchy scrabbling misery.
What Is Vesper About?
An opening crawl sets the scene – failed attempts to save the environment with gene editing have instead damned it. Almost all plant and animal life died. What plants are left are heavily mutated and frequently dangerous.
Food production collapsed to the point where the only seeds available are gene locked to be infertile unless bought from the remaining rich classes in their heavily policed ‘Citadels’. Everyone else is left to scrape to survive.
Ideas propagate the screen in this low-budget sci-fi movie. Vesper (Raffiella Chapman) is a 13-year-old girl caring for her bed-bound father by hunting out what scraps of nourishment she can find.
Vesper caters for a very biological method of futurism. Gloopy, dripping, biomechanics populate even Vesper’s backwater existence, with a squelchy generator and gelatinous life support system for her father, as his consciousness followers her around in a crude, face-painted drone.
Chapman exudes a steely determination, simultaneously bickering with and caring for her father (Richard Brake, comatose in person but also the hushed voice of Vesper’s drone).
Her battle of wills with her cruelly pragmatic uncle (Eddie Marsan, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell) are the few scenes that sparkle with intent.
Marsan’s cold-eyed survivalism (the blood of children is apparently a valuable asset, and thus ‘farming’ this commodity is vital) is a piton to cling on to throughout a movie that otherwise is in little rush to go anywhere fast.
Vesper Official Trailer
Is Vesper Worth Watching?
Despite the opening text crawl, it still takes a while to get acclimatised to Vesper and its post-apocalyptic world. A languid pace and absence of any colour saturates the screen with even more misery than the plot.
The appearance of a young, injured Citadel resident tries to shake up events and creates the one and only light-hearted scene as she teaches Vesper about animal noises.
Yet even this fresh-blood character can’t lift an atmosphere that crushes the film like a weighted blanket of goo.
Vesper’s bacterial approach to the apocalypse is more visually striking than actually interesting.
A hand thrust into quivering gloop is the equivalent of a mechanic getting oily but this is presented in such a grey and desperately survivalist way that revulsion and despair are the primary moods elicited throughout the movie’s laboriously long 2 hour runtime.
By the time bio-crafted, space-suit-clad wheezing shock troops show up, not even a shoot-and-pursuit can liven up the misery.
Vesper has something there. It smacks of an imaginative script that didn’t translate to the screen.
Marsan gives good throughout and despite Chapman’s youth and muted tones she carries herself with presence.
But with a muddy saturated colour palette, mood-strangling score, and general unrelenting hopelessness, Vesper paints a picture where the battle for survival has nothing to fight for.
Words by Mike Record