REVIEW: “Vesper” (2022)

Science-fiction fans who have been starving for something new, look no further. The directing duo of Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper have melded sci-fi with dystopian dark fantasy to give us “Vesper”. Don’t let its small indie status fool you. “Vesper” is a transporting experience and a masterclass on immersive world-building, showing that you don’t need the deep pockets of a major studio to create an absorbing setting.

Filmed in Lithuania, Buožytė and Samper vividly portray a dank and harsh planet Earth. They show us a tragically ravaged world, yet it’s one of spellbinding beauty. It’s much like the actual story itself which is somber-toned and melancholy yet warm-hearted and (in its own eventual way) hopeful. This creative balance is one of several things that set “Vesper” apart. And while its overall concept isn’t particularly new, the film carves its own identity by freshening up familiar ideas and shrewdly utilizing one of science-fiction’s biggest strengths – its ability to show us ourselves and our world from a number of enlightening perspectives.

Image Courtesy of IFC Films

In the world of “Vesper”, humanity tried and failed to dodge an impending ecological disaster by investing heavily in genetics. But as a result genetically engineered viruses and organisms escaped containment and wiped out most plant-based foods, animals, and a large portion of the human population. In this New Dark Age, those with power and status live in enclosed cities called Citadels. All those on the outside struggle to survive, dependent on seeds engineered and sold by the Citadels for food. It’s a social structure doomed by its very nature.

Outside the safety of the Citadels is a treacherous land filled with eerie mutated plant life and animated flora. Predatory plants with piercing tendrils or noxious gases pose a constant threat while others pulsate with a near fluorescent glow and react like an adoring pet to human touch. Such a complicated ecosystem may sound overwhelming, but not for 13-year-old Vesper (a very good Raffiella Chapman). Keen, resourceful, and with a knack for biohacking, Vesper has not only adapted to her surroundings, but she’s studied it and used what she has learned to engineer her own biological creations.

Vesper dreams of one day working in the labs of the nearest Citadel. But the reality of her situation offers no real hope. She lives in an old wood shack with her paralyzed and bed-ridden father Darius (Richard Blake). His brain is linked to a drone that he uses to communicate with Vesper and follow her when she goes out for supplies. Her mother left them a year earlier, joining a nomadic group of creepy scavengers called Pilgrims. So it’s left to Vesper to run the house, provide food, and take care of her father.

After their house is robbed, Vesper seeks help from her uncle Jonas (Eddie Marsan), a smart but ruthless leader of a small nearby town. Jonas is a cold and callous man who excuses his actions in the name of survival. Take his ghastly agreement with the closest Citadel. He trades bags of children’s blood for seeds. The Citadel’s scientists then use the blood to create synthetic humans called Jugs who are designed to do the work of laborers. “Jugs are designed to be loyal”, one character says. “It wouldn’t be so easy with humans.” Again, a social structure doomed to failure.

Image Courtesy of IFC Films

Vesper and Darius’ lives change dramatically after a Citadel glider crashes in the forest. Vesper discovers an injured woman named Camellia (Rosie McEwen) near the wreckage and nurses her back to health. The presence of a Citadel citizen excites Vesper but concerns Darius. And things only get worse once Jonas gets wind of the crash. The story takes some darker turns in its second half, especially as it digs deeper into the best and worst of humanity.

Despite their film’s overall bleakness, Buožytė and Samper don’t leave us without hope. Nothing in their world is certain, but they give us a reason to believe in Vesper, and they show a glimmer of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Chapman’s earnest and determined performance is key. But none of it works without the rich, captivating world which is brought to life through a remarkable mixture of digital and practical effects. It feels real and organic, yet full of mystery. Even more, it adds a harrowing layer to Vesper’s journey and ours as well. “Vesper” is now available on VOD.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

15 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Vesper” (2022)

  1. This movie film has got a good title. That’s the name of my oldest boy, Vesper Isaac Sims, I got a girl name of Hester Sue Sims, Jr. and my youngest name boy Jesper I don’t talk about much because he’s in the state penitentiary for stealing a set of ratchets and one of them blow up Santy Clauses you put in the yard from Lowl’s.

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