By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Adrian Glynn McMorran, Magda Apanowicz and Frank Cassini
Directed by Tony Dean Smith
Written by Tony Dean Smith and Ryan W. Smith
“The mystery of human destiny is that we are fated,” the great, subversive Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector wrote in her 1964 opus THE PASSION ACCORDING TO G.H., “but that we have the freedom to fulfill or not fulfill our fate: realization of our fated destiny depends on us.” This essential insight–that an esoteric/mystical scaffolding holding up reality need not be mutually exclusive from the autonomy and self-determination necessary for our life journeys to have real, crucial meaning–is at the heart of VOLITION, an affecting, thought-provoking, reality-refracting sci-fi thriller (on Apple TV, Prime Video and other digital platforms Friday) that arrives not a moment too soon.
Before we get too far out on the metaphysical branch, let’s nail the basics down: Jimmy (Adrian Glynn McMorran) is a world-weary denizen of the seedy underbelly of society, scraping by and harboring a secret gift that should be a boon of almost fantastical proportions but, alas, outside of a few small-time hustles, has proven a burden. Namely, he possesses a spotty clairvoyance that flickers on and off like bad track lighting. He catches enough of a glimpse of what’s to come to feel as if the future is hopelessly predetermined, yet not enough to work an angle that would make him fabulously wealthy and/or powerful.
“Doesn’t mean I’m special or anything,” Jimmy says in an early bit of expositional narration. “Just means this lousy life has played out before–and somehow I’m stuck watching the reruns.”
Jimmy is floating, not swimming, through life.
Into his hypnotic grift walk two separate disrupters: First, Angela (Magda Apanowicz), a streetwise young woman he saves from a back-alley attack and to whom he instantly feels a deep–and clearly mutual–connection. And second, Sal (Frank Cassini), an old friend freshly released from prison who, along with minor crime-boss cousin Ray (John Cassini) and ex-con heavy Terry (Aleks Paunovic), wants to recruit Jimmy’s extrasensory perception to move a bagful of diamonds for some Zimbabwean heavies.
It will likely not come as a shock to genre devotees that there are complications–significant complications. Not the least of which is the fact that early on, Jimmy foresees his own death. Now, suddenly, he cannot simply float. He cannot shrug at double-crosses and sink back into the couch in a cloud of pot smoke. An existential threat has arrived at the same time as a potential life-affirming love affair–and if Jimmy wants to avoid the former and embrace the latter, he’s going to have to delve deep into (and make peace with) his past, smash the apathy engendered by his borderline Calvinistic acquiescence to predestination, boldly transgress the boundaries of time as we know it and fight like hell to center and actualize himself.
To go any further would spoil the fun and impact of this gorgeously realized, intricate, ambitious film. The performances are all on point, the script from brothers Tony Dean Smith and Ryan W. Smith is lushly realized and weirdly, perfectly paced, Tony Dean Smith provides a steady directorial hand in the narrative maelstrom, and a wonderful balance is struck between suspense, action, philosophy and pathos.
It’s no surprise that VOLITION won the Best Feature award at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival, and whhile it would not be fair to describe a film with such a wild premise as “ripped from the headlines,” VOLITION does feel extremely relevant to this pandemic moment. Which is to say that like Jimmy, we are faced with an existential challenge to which we could easily excuse away our surrender. Can we find the bravery and love deep within ourselves to do what is necessary to reject apathy, to reject predestination, to reject fear and rise to the occasion and summon a new, more nourishing reality? Or are we going to allow ourselves to get caught in endless loops of decay and depersonalization? A film like VOLITION seems as much a path forward as a great piece of smart, engrossing entertainment.