Have you ever found yourself in a situation you could swear you’ve experienced before? Did the outcome of said situation seem predetermined? Do you have a shitty landlord with an aggressive beard and also work with a professor, skilled in quantum physics, who has an even more aggressive beard than your landlord? If you answered “yes” to every single one of these questions, you might just be James, the main character of Volition…
…Volition, Tony Dean Smith’s time bending thriller, which played at Shriekfest recently, starts off in a familiar setting with a complex concept. James (Adrian Glynn McMorran) is a dude who’s rough around the edges and clearly involved with some seedy characters. He also claims to be clairvoyant and has seen the future before it’s happened in the present. Ain’t that some shit. Beginning with the aforementioned landlord – yes, the guy with the aggressive beard – pounding on James’ door, demanding he pay up the rent, we get a sense our main character isn’t exactly crushing it financially. Complete with a Pepe Silvia-like diagram, James adds this interaction to his wall and we begin to see the larger storyline at work.
Filled with quick, stylized camera work, the film picks up pace very quickly… almost a little too quickly. As James makes his way out to a bar to score some quick cash, we see he’s mostly using his ability to place bets and always win; nice benefit to clairvoyance indeed. After acquiring some cash, James just so happens to stumble upon a gal in distress, and when I say “distress”, I mean getting beaten up by probably an ex-boyfriend. James intervenes and doesn’t exactly win, but manages to break up the fight, even as a “random third person” joins in out of nowhere. This leads him to meeting Angela (Magda Apanowicz) and the two hit it off. Why shouldn’t they, as we’ve seen flashes of James already knowing this is going to happen.
Momentum has already been built in the first 15-20 minutes of the film and the greater plan at work happens immediately after the two characters meet. James runs into an old associate, Sal. Complete with a muscle man who looks like a mid-level boss from a Double Dragon video game, we’re under the impression that James has definitely been using his ability for not-so-moral benefits. Introduced quickly to Sal and James’ contact, Ray, the story focuses on a diamond exchange, with James claiming to have seen the hand-off. A plan is established, James finds himself with a small bag of diamonds worth a shitload of money, and more flash-forwards occur. James reunites with Angela, the two find themselves double-crossed, and they flee to an old friend of James.
About one third into the film, James and Angela encounter Elliott, a professor with the most aggressive beard we’ve seen. Dude really one-ups the shitty landlord. This is where the time-bending/clairvoyance aspect of the movie really kicks in. Previous to this meeting, we’ve seen quick flash-forwards of small tidbits of information. A handoff. A spinning fan. A house. A window. And the genre staple of someone being shot (FORESHADOWING!?!?!?). Elliott is a professor of some kind of physics, and as he takes in the two characters, he clearly has known about James, and his ability, for some time. He knows a grander scheme is at play, the Pepe Silvia-like board at James’ house is not just for show.
As the film progresses further, it’s clearly established that slick, quick camera work is used to visually embody the breakneck momentum of the story. The score, while mediocre in execution, matches the visual aspect very well. However, for the first half of the runtime, things happen extremely fast. It’s a little tough to keep up with, though that could be taken as intentional, given the time bending aspect of the plot. When James and Angela meet Elliott, the momentum slows down, and some of the “science” is explained behind James’ clairvoyance. Without getting too in-depth, this has been going on his whole life, Elliott has been a part of it, there’s some time bending substance that James injects himself with to “skip” ahead or behind.
The writer/director does a pretty good job of having some level of believability in the science behind everything, but there’s obviously some long shots. This is the point where the Shane Carruth fan-boy in me comes out and would normally write a novel about the masterpiece, Primer (2004), but I will spare you all the details and just say, no film will come close to kind of explaining theoretical time manipulation as well as it does.
While sparse in compelling dialogue, the acting is good enough that we learn to kind of care about our characters. Highlighting the complex plot and (multiple) timelines, camera work was definitely the high point for me. Though a bit excessive during the first half, with an oddly placed climax, quick and stylized shots contribute to the every-jumping plot of James trying to unravel the greater plan surrounding his existence. Everything (and all those little hints we see during the numerous flash-forwards) is tied up logically and nicely as the film comes to an end.
Volition is a choppy, stylish, time bending thriller that relies on its quick camera work to engross the viewer in its understandably convoluted plot. Though it feels like a bit too much at times, it gives me the impression Tony Dean Smith will refine his signature in further works and slightly above-par acting does what it needs to, with Bill Marchant’s Elliot and Magda Apanowicz’s Angela coming across as genuinely convincing. Fans of time manipulation will want to add this to their watchlist, and general thriller movie seekers could find it enjoyable and easy to digest. I wasn’t absolutely blown away, but it was worth the watch.
By Zach Gorecki