Release Date: 21st October 2022
Directed by: Kristina Buožytė, Bruno Samper
Cast: Rafiella Chapman, Eddie Marsan, Rosie McEwen, Richard Brake
Written by: Kristina Buožytė, Brian Clarke, Bruno Samper
Cinematography: Feliksas Abrukauskas
``a highly original piece of work``
This low-budget sci-fi, written and directed by Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper, is set in a grim and miserable future when ecological disaster has wiped out all crops, animals, and nearly all humans. The wealthy 1% live in walled-off cities called citadels, and the rest struggle to survive by scavenging for whatever scraps they can find in the dirt.
13-year-old Vesper (Rafiella Chapman) cares for her paralysed, bedbound father, who is only able to communicate through a talking drone. Vesper’s uneasy relationship with her malevolent uncle Jonas (Eddie Marsan) – who lives nearby in a commune with his possibly inbred offspring – suggests there is something more lying under the surface than mere distrust. One day, a glider from one of the citadels carrying a pair of wealthy passengers crashes in the woods. Vesper finds a young survivor, and gives her shelter while trying to keep her presence a secret from her uncle.
The societal element – the super-rich in their citadels – isn’t front and foremost in the story. Instead it’s used quite effectively as a bit of subtle background world-building. The movie’s primary focus is really the ghost of humanity.
With that in mind, Eddie Marsan is chilling. Playing the malignant Jonas, Marsan has made the choice to not play the villain as a villain. Once again, the future is dystopian, and the world of Vesper is a cold, cruel one. Jonas does some terrible things, but through Marsan’s performance, we can almost see what is driving him towards these actions. Marsan carries a quiet resignation about him. If he is to survive in this inhospitable environment, then it’s inevitable that he’s going to have to get some blood on his hands. “The banality of evil” indeed.
Vesper is not one for those prone to germaphobic tendencies, as it is consistently gross and icky. There’s a lot of groping around in slimy things and if the visuals don’t make you feel queasy, then the sound design will.
The tiny budget has been put to good use, with a very effective mix of digital and practical effects. The desolate Baltic landscape of Lithuania is a very effective stand-in for a post-apocalyptic future. The production design is extraordinary. There are so many throwaway elements here that are just exceptional, like the enormous mushroom-shaped metal structures that pepper the landscape – never explained but obviously part of humanity’s failed attempts to hold off ecological catastrophe – now left to rot like the wrecks of burnt out cars.
Likewise, the costume design is incredible. Given the production budget is a miniscule €5 Million – laughable for a sci-fi – that is all the more impressive. The one weak spot here is the overbearing musical score by Dan Levy. Regardless of what is happening onscreen, Levy’s relentlessly bombastic score is dialled up to 11, whether appropriate or not.
Buožytė and Samper have drawn from a hundred different influences, from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Alex Garland’s Annihilation, and Jean Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children. And although Vesper wears its influences proudly, it is never derivative. This is a highly original piece of work.